(The Root) — "We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations," President Barack Obama said on Saturday night during the dinner at the close of the 43rd Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual legislative conference. "We're not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point. And those folks are going to get some health care in this country — we've been waiting 50 years for it."
On Friday, the health care battle roared on Capitol Hill as House Republicans passed a bill that would maintain funding for the federal government as long as funding for the Affordable Care Act was eliminated. This week, the bill heads to the Senate, where it likely will be voted down. Soon, Congress will also have to address the country's debt ceiling, which Obama recently accused Republicans of entangling with the destruction of the Affordable Care Act. If a fiscal resolution isn't reached by Oct. 1, a government shutdown is possible. To date, last week's vote is the 42nd time House Republicans have tried to defund the Affordable Care Act. At the Phoenix Awards dinner Saturday night, the president spoke boldly to a choir of his African-American constituents during his keynote speech.
"Now, I think — this is an interesting thing to ponder — that your top agenda is making sure 20 million people don't have health insurance," he continued. "And you'd be willing to shut down the government and potentially default for the first time in United States history because it bothers you so much that we're actually going to make sure that everybody has affordable health care."
The president also noted the recent decision to cut food stamps.
"House Republicans voted to cut $40 billion in nutritional aid for struggling families at the same time as some of the same folks who took that vote are receiving subsidies themselves," he said. "So farm subsidies for folks at the top are OK; help feeding your child is somehow not."
Obama continued his focus on families by addressing education and economic fairness.
"I've been talking to colleges, telling them they need to do their part by bringing costs down," Obama said. "Because in a 21st-century economy, a higher education is not a luxury, it is an economic imperative, and everybody should be able to afford it, not just a few."
Touching on this week's shooting spree in Chicago, where a 3-year-old was shot in the head, the president also reflected on 2013's failed attempt to increase gun restrictions and called for more fervent action.
"We fought a good fight earlier this year, but we came up short, and that means we've got to get back up and go back at it," he said. "As long as there are those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun, then we've got to work as hard as possible for the sake of our children."
Finally, Obama joked about the current trials his administration faces and reinforced his dogged determination.
"I was taking photos with the CBC folks — every one of them came up, said, 'Oh, you hang in there, man,' " Obama said with a smile. "And I said, don't worry about me. I am still fired up, because I still see the work that needs to be done."
The Phoenix Awards also honored former President Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Elaine Jones, Rep. Elijah Cummings, former President Bill Clinton, who was unable to attend, and the spirit of 1963, which was acknowledged by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York City bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.