Former President Carter says that the US can handle a shutdown of the government, but "to exceed the debt limit that would be a tragedy that this country has never experienced."
Former President Jimmy Carter told NBC News on Friday that a government default — looming if Republicans and the White House can’t make a deal soon — would be a “tragedy unlike anything we've known financially in this country since the Founding Fathers created the Constitution.”
Carter called such a prospect a “threat to the integrity of this government.” A short-term deal to avoid default would be better than nothing, he added, but “just means you’ll have another crisis.”
Senate Republicans met at the White House with President Barack Obama, but there was no indication that a deal was near to reopen the government -- which has been partially shut since Oct. 1 in a budget standoff -- or to avoid default.
If Congress does not raise the government’s borrowing limit by Thursday, administration officials have warned, the Treasury will not have enough money to cover the country’s bills.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Roselyn talk with NBC's Richard Lui on Oct. 1. 2013.
That has raised the prospect that the United States could default on its bond payments for the first time. The threat has shaken investors, and financial analysts have warned that the implications would be catastrophic for the world economy.
Carter told NBC News that both sides in Washington need to be more flexible. He called John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, capable and courageous — “he’s not a coward” — but said Boehner was dealing with a difficult faction in his party.
The 39th president spoke to NBC News in Queens, N.Y., where he was working on a Habitat for Humanity project with his wife, Rosalynn.
Carter, who turned 89 last week, had warm words for the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, who has indicated he is open to negotiation with the West about his country’s nuclear ambitions.
He called Rouhani a “very good prospect” compared with his predecessors.
“I look with favor on the negotiations,” he said, and added that the sides might “break some ice and then find out what’s a reasonable solution.” Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, but the West suspects it has designs on a bomb.
Carter, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, declined to criticize the Nobel committee for failing to award this year’s prize to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was the favorite to win for her campaign on education for girls.
“I never have criticized the Nobel committee because of whom they choose. I particularly didn't criticize in 2002, when they chose me,” he said, smiling. “They look at the whole world, and I think the young woman from Pakistan is a notable woman.”
This story was originally published on Fri Oct 11, 2013 5:36 PM EDT