In turn, the speaker played down the consequences, laying the crisis solely at the feet of the president and saying all he has to do to end it is embrace the GOP bill in the House. "If the president signs it, the crisis atmosphere he has created will simply disappear."
But Obama made clear he is not about to surrender to Republican demands. "There are still paths forward," he declared. But one of them is not Boehner's preferred bill.
His preferred path now that more ambitious grand bargains have been shot down is a plan backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. In his speech, he called that "a plan to avoid default, which makes a down payment on deficit reduction and ensures that we don't have to go through this again in six months."
He said he has told congressional leaders "that they must come up with a fair compromise in the next few days." If they fail, the consequences are dire, he said. But the president didn't seem optimistic that his words would sway Republicans - the very reason he asked for the prime time broadcast, in the hopes he could go over the heads of Congress and appeal to the country.
"Unfortunately, for the past several weeks," Obama said, "Republican House members have essentially said that the only way they'll vote to prevent America's first-ever default is if the rest of us agree to their deep, spending cuts-only approach. If that happens, and we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills - bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans' benefits, and the government contracts we've signed with thousands of businesses."
This would be historic and catastrophic, said the president. "For the first time in history, our country's Triple A credit rating would be downgraded, leaving investors around the world to wonder whether the United States is still a good bet. Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, mortgages, and car loans, which amounts to a huge tax hike on the American people."
Ominously, he said, "We would risk sparking a deep economic crisis - one caused almost entirely by Washington."
A default, Obama warned, would be "a reckless and irresponsible outcome to this debate."
The president derided Boehner's legislation requiring the issue to be revisited in only six months, saying that would likely shake faith on the part of investors. It would, he said, "force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now. In other words, it doesn't solve the problem."
Imploring both parties to forge a last-minute compromise, Obama warned "the entire world is watching."
The stakes of the debt crisis were clear from the unusual drama of the night's staging. It is not unusual for the opposition party to present a rebuttal following a presidential address. It is unusual, though, for there to be so much attention paid to the opposition remarks or for the response to be live. The last time that happened was 2007. But there was Boehner, starting his speech only two minutes after the president departed the East Room. And there was the sense that Boehner, remarkably, would have as much say as the president in how the final act plays out.