Q Hello, Mr. President.


Q My name is Amanda -- and I'm a big fan. I'm from Iowa, originally.


Q Yes. (Laughter.) I'm an atheist. And in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2008, you asserted that no organization receiving taxpayer funds would be able to discriminate in hiring or firing based on a person's religion. However, you have not rescinded the executive order that permits this type of discrimination. In a time of economic hardship, when it is difficult for a person to get a job based on her skills, what would you say to a woman who has been denied employment because of her religion or lack of religious beliefs by a taxpayer-funded organization?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, this is a very difficult issue, but a more narrow one than I think might be implied. It's very straightforward that people shouldn't be discriminated against for race, gender, sexual orientation, and -- or religious affiliation.

What has happened is, is that there has been a carve-out, dating back to President Clinton's presidency, for religious organizations in their hiring for particular purposes. And this is always a tricky part of the First Amendment. On the one hand, the First Amendment ensures that there's freedom of religion. On the other hand, we want to make sure that religious bodies are abiding by general laws.

And so where this issue has come up is in fairly narrow circumstances where, for example, you've got a faith-based organization that's providing certain services; they consider part of their mission to be promoting their religious views, but they may have a daycare center associated with the organization, or they may be running a food pantry, and so then the question is, does a Jewish organization have to hire a non-Jewish person as part of that organization?

Now, I think that the balance we've tried to strike is to say that if you are offering -- if you have set up a nonprofit that is disassociated from your core religious functions and is out there in the public doing all kinds of work, then you have to abide generally with the non-discrimination hiring practices. If, on the other hand, it is closer to your core functions as a synagogue or a mosque or a church, then there may be more leeway for you to hire somebody who is a believer of that particular religious faith.

It doesn't satisfy everybody. I will tell you that a lot of faith-based organizations think that we are too restrictive in how we define those issues. There are others like you, obviously, who think that we're not restrictive enough. I think we've struck the right balance so far. But this is something that we continue to be in dialogue with faith-based organizations about to try to make sure that their hiring practices are as open and as inclusive as possible.

Okay? Thank you.

Yes, sir. Back here. Hold on a second, we got a mic.

Q Yes. Most of the American people are on your side about a balanced approach --


Q What we also know is most of the budget cuts are going to be in the out-years. So the question is why push so hard for a big settlement now, when if you push hard and let the American people vote in 2012 and get rid of these hooligans in the House, we might actually have a reasonable settlement -- (applause) -- maybe more like a one-to-one relationship instead of three to one or worse?

THE PRESIDENT: The challenge I have in these negotiations is, whether I like it or not, I've got to get the debt ceiling limit raised.

Q -- the 14th Amendment?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'll answer that question later. But I just want to make sure that everybody understands defaulting is not an option.

There are some on either side that have suggested that somehow we could manage our way through. But I just want everybody to be clear, the United States government sends out about 70 million checks every month. We have to refinance bonds that we've issued, essentially IOUs to investors. We do that every week. If suddenly investors -- and by the way, a lot of those investors are Americans who have Treasury bills, pension funds, et cetera -- if suddenly they started thinking that we might not pay them back on time, at the very least, at the bare minimum, they would charge a much higher interest rate to allow the United States to borrow money.

And if interest rate costs go up for the United States, they're probably going to go up for everybody. So it would be a indirect tax on every single one of you. Your credit card interest rates would go up. Your mortgage interest would go up. Your student loan interest would potentially go up. And, ironically, the costs of servicing our deficit would go up, which means it would actually potentially be worse for our deficit if we had default. It could also plunge us back into the kind of recession that we had back in 2008 and '09. So it is not an option for us to default.