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Obama links unemployment to debt ceiling

Speaking in the Rose Garden today, President Obama said working out a debt deal would help stabilize the economy, even as he characterized the debt ceiling debate as an inside-the-Beltway distraction from the high unemployment rate.

"Over the last couple of days, the debate here in Washington has been dominated by issues of debt limit," the president said, adding that what matters most to him is getting the economy "on a sounder footing."

But he went on to link a deal on the debt ceiling to the prospect of a lower unemployment rate.

"The sooner we get this done, the sooner that the markets know that the debt limit ceiling will have been raised and that we have a serious plan to deal with our debt and deficit, the sooner that we give our businesses the certainty that they will need in order to make additional investments to grow and hire," Obama said.

He also attributed the 9.2% unemployment rate and slow job growth to factors like natural disasters, high gas prices, and austerity measures around the United States and in Europe, all of which he said have made businesses "hesitant to invest more aggressively."

The president reiterated his desire, first expressed in a spirited press conference last week, for Congress to pass legislation that he said would help create jobs, like free trade deals with several countries and a bill that would spur infrastructure investment.

"All of them have bipartisan support.  All of them could pass immediately.  And I urge Congress not to wait," Obama said.

In her weekly press briefing, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed President Obama's frustration that Congress hasn't passed those bills. On the debt ceiling negotiations, however, she dug in her heels that her caucus would not accept cuts to Medicare and Social Security, although she did say there was "some level of optimism" when it comes to forging a deal with Republicans.

White House press secretary Jay Carney also said today that Democrats' "cautious optimism hasn't changed in the last 24 hours," even as House Speaker John Boehner said that Democrats and Republicans remained far apart on a deal.