President Obama Holds a News Conference


The President:
Please have a seat, everybody. Good morning. I thought it might make sense to
take some questions this week, as my first term
comes to an end. It’s been a busy and
productive four years. And I expect the same
for the next four years. I intend to carry out the agenda
that I campaigned on — an agenda for new jobs, new
opportunity, and new security for the middle class. Right now, our economy is
growing, and our businesses are creating new jobs, so we
are poised for a good year if we make smart decisions and
sound investments — and as long as Washington politics don’t get
in the way of America’s progress. As I said on the campaign, one
component to growing our economy and broadening opportunity for
the middle class is shrinking our deficits in a balanced
and responsible way. And for nearly two years now,
I’ve been fighting for such a plan — one that would reduce
our deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade, which would
stabilize our debt and our deficit in a sustainable
way for the next decade. That would be enough not only
to stop the growth of our debt relative to the size of our
economy, but it would make it manageable so it doesn’t crowd
out the investments we need to make in people and education
and job training and science and medical research — all the
things that help us grow. Now, step by step, we’ve made
progress towards that goal. Over the past two years, I’ve
signed into law about $1.4 trillion in spending cuts. Two weeks ago, I signed into law
more than $600 billion in new revenue by making sure the
wealthiest Americans begin to pay their fair share. When you add the money that
we’ll save in interest payments on the debt, all together that
adds up to a total of about $2.5 trillion in deficit
reduction over the past two years — not counting the
$400 billion already saved from winding down the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan. So we’ve made progress. We are moving towards our
ultimate goal of getting to a $4 trillion reduction. And there will be more deficit
reduction when Congress decides what to do about the $1.2
trillion in automatic spending cuts that have been pushed
off until next month. The fact is, though, we can’t
finish the job of deficit reduction through
spending cuts alone. The cuts we’ve already made to
priorities other than Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and
defense mean that we spend on everything from education to
public safety less as a share of our economy than it has — than
has been true for a generation. And that’s not a
recipe for growth. So we’ve got to do more both to
stabilize our finances over the medium and long term, but
also spur more growth in the short term. I’ve said I’m open to making
modest adjustments to programs like Medicare to protect
them for future generations. I’ve also said that we need
more revenue through tax reform by closing loopholes
in our tax code for the wealthiest Americans. If we combine a balanced package
of savings from spending on health care and revenues from
closing loopholes, we can solve the deficit issue without
sacrificing our investments in things like education that
are going to help us grow. It turns out the American
people agree with me. They listened to an entire
year’s debate over this issue, and they made a clear decision
about the approach they prefer. They don’t think it’s fair, for
example, to ask a senior to pay more for his or her health care,
or a scientist to shut down lifesaving research so that a
multimillionaire investor can pay less in tax rates
than a secretary. They don’t think it’s smart
to protect endless corporate loopholes and tax breaks for the
wealthiest Americans rather than rebuild our roads and our
schools, invest in our workers’ skills, or help manufacturers
bring jobs back to America. So they want us to get our books
in order in a balanced way, where everybody pulls
their weight, everyone does their part. That’s what I want as well. That’s what I’ve proposed. And we can get it done, but
we’re going to have to make sure that people are looking at
this in a responsible way rather than just through
the lens of politics. Now, the other congressionally
imposed deadline coming up is the so-called debt ceiling —
something most Americans hadn’t even heard of before
two years ago. I want to be clear about this. The debt ceiling is not
a question of authorizing more spending. Raising the debt ceiling does
not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to
pay for spending that Congress has already committed to. These are bills that have
already been racked up and we need to pay them. So while I’m willing to
compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our
deficits, America cannot afford another debate with this
Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills
they’ve already racked up. If congressional Republicans
refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security
checks and veterans’ benefits will be delayed. We might not be able to pay our
troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic
controllers, specialists who track down loose nuclear
material wouldn’t get their paychecks. Investors around the world will
ask if the United States of America is, in fact, a safe bet. Markets could go haywire. Interest rates would spike for
anybody who borrows money — every homeowner with a mortgage,
every student with a college loan, every small business owner
who wants to grow and hire. It would be a self-inflicted
wound on the economy. It would slow down our growth,
might tip us into recession, and ironically, would
probably increase our deficit. So to even entertain the idea of
this happening — of the United States of America not paying
its bills — is irresponsible. It’s absurd. As the Speaker said two years
ago, it would be — and I’m quoting Speaker Boehner now —
“a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the
worldwide economy.” So we’ve got to pay our bills. And Republicans in Congress have
two choices here: They can act responsibly, and pay America’s
bills; or they can act irresponsibly, and put America
through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a
ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the
American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the
United States of America is not a bargaining chip. And they better choose quickly,
because time is running short. The last time Republicans in
Congress even flirted with this idea, our AAA credit rating was
downgraded for the first time in our history; our businesses
created the fewest jobs of any month in nearly the past
three years; and, ironically, the whole fiasco actually
added to the deficit. So it shouldn’t be surprising,
given all this talk, that the American people think Washington
is hurting, rather than helping, the country at the moment. They see their representatives
consumed with partisan brinksmanship over paying our
bills, while they overwhelmingly want us to focus on growing the
economy and creating more jobs. So let’s finish this debate. Let’s give our businesses and
the world the certainty that our economy and our reputation
are still second to none. We pay our bills. We handle our business. And then we can move on —
because America has a lot to do. We’ve got to create more jobs. We’ve got to boost the wages
of those who have work. We’ve got to reach for
energy independence. We’ve got to reform
our immigration system. We’ve got to give our children
the best education possible, and we’ve got to do everything
we can to protect them from the horrors of gun violence. And let me say I’m grateful to
Vice President Biden for his work on this issue of gun
violence and for his proposals, which I’m going to be reviewing
today and I will address in the next few days and I intend
to vigorously pursue. So, with that, I’m going
to take some questions. And I’m going to start
with Julie Pace of AP. And I want to congratulate Julie
for this new, important job. The Press:
Thank you very much. The President:
Yes. The Press:
I wanted to ask
about gun violence. Today marks the one-year —
or one-month anniversary of the shooting in Newtown, which
seemed to generate some momentum for reinstating the
assault weapons ban. But there’s been fresh
opposition to that ban from the NRA. And even Harry Reid has said
that he questions whether it could pass Congress. Given that, how hard will you
push for an assault weapons ban? And if one cannot pass Congress,
what other measures would need to be included in a broad
package in order to curb gun violence successfully? The President:
Well, as I said, the Vice
President and a number of members of my Cabinet went
through a very thorough process over the last month, meeting
with a lot of stakeholders in this including the NRA, listened
to proposals from all quarters, and they’ve presented me
now with a list of sensible, common-sense steps that can
be taken to make sure that the kinds of violence we saw at
Newtown doesn’t happen again. I’m going to be meeting with
the Vice President today. I expect to have a fuller
presentation later in the week to give people some
specifics about what I think we need to do. My starting point is not to
worry about the politics; my starting point is to focus on
what makes sense, what works; what should we be doing to make
sure that our children are safe and that we’re reducing the
incidents of gun violence. And I think we can do that in a
sensible way that comports with the Second Amendment. And then members of Congress I
think are going to have to have a debate and examine their own
conscience — because if, in fact — and I believe this is
true — everybody across party lines was as deeply moved
and saddened as I was by what happened in Newtown, then we’re
going to have to vote based on what we think is best. We’re going to have to
come up with answers that set politics aside. And that’s what I
expect Congress to do. But what you can count is, is
that the things that I’ve said in the past — the belief
that we have to have stronger background checks, that we can
do a much better job in terms of keeping these magazine clips
with high capacity out of the hands of folks who shouldn’t
have them, an assault weapons ban that is meaningful — that
those are things I continue to believe make sense. Will all of them get
through this Congress? I don’t know. But what’s uppermost in my mind
is making sure that I’m honest with the American people and
with members of Congress about what I think will work, what
I think is something that will make a difference. And to repeat what I’ve said
earlier — if there is a step we can take that will save even
one child from what happened in Newtown, we should
take that step. The Press:
Can a package be discussed to
allow an assault weapons ban? The President:
I’ll present the
details later in the week. Chuck Todd, NBC. The Press:
Thank you, sir. As you know, the Senate
Democrats, Harry Reid sent you a letter begging you,
essentially, to take — consider some sort of executive action
on this debt ceiling issue. I know you’ve said you’re
not negotiating on it. Your administration has ruled
out the various ideas that have been out there —
the 14th Amendment. But just this morning, one of
the House Democratic leaders, Jim Clyburn, asked you to use
the 14th Amendment and even said, sometimes
that’s what it takes. He brought up the Emancipation
Proclamation as saying it took executive action when Congress
wouldn’t act, and he compared the debt ceiling to that. So are you considering a
plan B, and if not, why not? The President:
Well, Chuck, the issue
here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation. And so there’s a very simple
solution to this: Congress authorizes us to pay our bills. Now, if the House and the Senate
want to give me the authority so that they don’t have to take
these tough votes, if they want to put the responsibility on
me to raise the debt ceiling, I’m happy to take it. Mitch McConnell, the Republican
Leader in the Senate, had a proposal like that last year,
and I’m happy to accept it. But if they want to keep this
responsibility, then they need to go ahead and get it done. And there are no
magic tricks here. There are no loopholes. There are no easy outs. This is a matter of Congress
authorizes spending. They order me to spend. They tell me, you need to fund
our Defense Department at such and such a level; you need to
send out Social Security checks; you need to make sure that
you are paying to care for our veterans. They lay all this out for
me because they have the spending power. And so I am required by law to
go ahead and pay these bills. Separately, they also have to
authorize the raising of the debt ceiling in order to make
sure that those bills are paid. And so, what Congress can’t do
is tell me to spend X, and then say, but we’re not going to give
you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills. And I just want to repeat —
because I think sometimes the American people, understandably,
aren’t following all the debates here in Washington — raising
the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that
America will pay its bills. And we are not a
dead-beat nation. And the consequences of us not
paying our bills, as I outlined in my opening statement,
would be disastrous. So I understand the impulse
to try to get around this in a simple way. But there’s one way
to get around this. There’s one way to deal with it. And that is for Congress to
authorize me to pay for those items of spending that they
have already authorized. And the notion that Republicans
in the House, or maybe some Republicans in the Senate, would
suggest that “in order for us to get our way on our spending
priorities, that we would risk the full faith and credit of
the United States” — that I think is not what the
Founders intended. That’s not how I think most
Americans think our democracy should work. They’ve got a point of view;
Democrats in Congress have a point of view. They need to sit down and
work out a compromise. The Press:
You just outlined an
entire rationale for why this can’t happen. The President:
Yes. The Press:
And if — then if — and
you’re not negotiating on the debt ceiling. The President:
Yes. The Press:
So you’re not negotiating
and they say you have to negotiate, and you’re not
considering another plan B, then do you just wait it out and
we do go — we do see all these things happen? The President:
Well look, Chuck, there are —
there’s a pretty straightforward way of doing this and that is to
set the debt ceiling aside, we pay our bills, and then we
have a vigorous debate about how we’re going to do
further deficit reduction in a balanced way. Keep in mind that what we’ve
heard from some Republicans in both the House and the Senate is
that they will only increase the debt ceiling by the amount of
spending cuts that they’re able to push through and — in
order to replace the automatic spending cuts of the sequester
— that’s $1.2 trillion. Say it takes another trillion or
trillion-two to get us through one more year, they’d have to
identify $2.5 trillion in cuts just to get the debt ceiling
extended to next year — $2.5 trillion. They can’t even — Congress
has not been able to identify $1.2 trillion in cuts
that they’re happy with. Because these same Republicans
say they don’t want to cut defense; they’ve claimed that
they don’t want to gut Medicare or harm the vulnerable. But the truth of the matter is
that you can’t meet their own criteria without drastically
cutting Medicare, or having an impact on Medicaid, or
affecting our defense spending. So the math just doesn’t add up. Now, here’s what would work. What would work would be for us
to say we’ve already done close to $2 trillion in deficit
reduction, and if you add the interest that we won’t be paying
because of less spending and increased revenue, it adds
up to about $2.5 trillion. The consensus is we need about
$4 trillion to stabilize our debt and our deficit,
which means we need about $1.5 trillion more. The package that I offered to
Speaker Boehner before we — before the New Year
would achieve that. We were actually fairly
close in terms of arriving at that number. So if the goal is to make sure
that we are being responsible about our debt and our deficit,
if that’s the conversation we’re having, I’m happy to
have that conversation. And by closing some additional
loopholes through tax reform — which Speaker Boehner has
acknowledged can raise money in a sensible way — and by doing
some additional cuts, including making sure that we are reducing
our health care spending, which is the main driver of our
deficits, we can arrive at a package that gets
this thing done. I’m happy to have
that conversation. What I will not do is to have
that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people
— the threat that “unless we get our way, unless you gut
Medicare or Medicaid, or otherwise slash things that the
American people don’t believe should be slashed, that we’re
going to threaten to wreck the entire economy.” That is not how historically
this has been done. That’s not how we’re
going to do it this time. The Press:
No plan B? You’re not searching
for any other — The President:
Chuck, what I’m saying to you
is that there is no simpler solution, no ready, credible
solution, other than Congress either give me the authority
to raise the debt ceiling, or exercise the responsibility that
they have kept for themselves and raise the debt ceiling. Because this is about
paying your bills. Everybody here understands this. I mean, this is not a
complicated concept. You don’t go out to dinner and
then eat all you want, and then leave without paying the check. And if you do, you’re
breaking the law. And Congress should think
about it the same way that the American people do. You don’t — now, if Congress
wants to have a debate about maybe we shouldn’t go out to
dinner next time, maybe we should go to a more modest
restaurant, that’s fine. That’s a debate
that we should have. But you don’t say, in order for
me to control my appetites, I’m going to not pay the people who
already provided me services, people who already
lent me the money. That’s not showing
any discipline. All that’s doing is not
meeting your obligations. You can’t do that. And that’s not a credible
way to run this government. We’ve got to stop lurching from
crisis to crisis to crisis, when there’s this clear path ahead
of us that simply requires some discipline, some responsibility
and some compromise. That’s where we need to go. That’s how this needs to work. Major Garrett. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. As you well know, sir, finding
votes for the debt ceiling can sometimes be complicated. You, yourself, as a member of
the Senate, voted against a debt ceiling increase. And in previous aspects of
American history — President Reagan in 1985, President George
Herbert Walker Bush in 1990, President Clinton in 1997 —
all signed deficit reduction deals that were contingent
upon or in the context of raising the debt ceiling. You, yourself, four
times have done that. Three times, those were
related to deficit reduction or budget maneuvers. What Chuck and I and I think
many people are curious about is this new, adamant desire on your
part not to negotiate, when that seems to conflict with the
entire history in the modern era of American Presidents and
the debt ceiling, and your own history on the debt ceiling. And doesn’t that suggest that we
are going to go into a default situation because no one is
talking to each other about how to resolve this? The President:
Well, no, Major, I think
if you look at the history, getting votes for the debt
ceiling is always difficult, and budgets in this
town are always difficult. I went through this
just last year. But what’s different is we never
saw a situation as we saw last year in which certain groups in
Congress took such an absolutist position that we came within
a few days of defaulting. And the fact of the matter is,
is that we have never seen the debt ceiling used in this
fashion, where the notion was, you know what, we might
default unless we get 100% of what we want. That hasn’t happened. Now, as I indicated before, I’m
happy to have a conversation about how we reduce our deficits
further in a sensible way. Although one thing I want to
point out is that the American people are also concerned about
how we grow our economy, how we put people back to work, how we
make sure that we finance our workers getting properly trained
and our schools are giving our kids the education we deserve. There’s a whole growth agenda
which will reduce our deficits that’s important as well. But what you’ve never seen
is the notion that has been presented, so far at least, by
the Republicans that deficit reduction — we’ll only count
spending cuts; that we will raise the deficit — or the
debt ceiling dollar for dollar on spending cuts. There are a whole set of rules
that have been established that are impossible to meet
without doing severe damage to the economy. And so what we’re not going
to do is put ourselves in a position where in order to pay
for spending that we’ve already incurred, that our two options
are we’re either going to profoundly hurt the economy and
hurt middle-class families and hurt seniors and hurt kids who
are trying to go to college, or, alternatively, we’re going
to blow up the economy. We’re not going to do that. The Press:
(inaudible) — open to a
one-to-three-month extension to the debt ceiling —
whatever Congress sends you, you’re okay with it? The President:
No, not whatever
Congress sends me. They’re going to have to send
me something that’s sensible. And we shouldn’t
be doing this — The Press:
— (inaudible) — The President:
— and we shouldn’t be
doing this on a one to three-month timeframe. Why would we do that? This is the United
States of America, Major. What, we can’t manage our
affairs in such a way that we pay our bills and we provide
some certainty in terms of how we pay our bills? Look, I don’t think anybody
would consider my position unreasonable here. I have — The Press:
But why does it presuppose
the need to negotiate and talk about this
on a daily basis? Because if default is the
biggest threat to the economy, why not talk about it — The President:
Major, I am happy to have
a conversation about how we reduce our deficits. I’m not going to have a
monthly or every-three-months conversation about whether
or not we pay our bills. Because that in and of
itself does severe damage. Even the threat of
default hurts our economy. It’s hurting our
economy as we speak. We shouldn’t be
having that debate. If we want to have a
conversation about how to reduce our deficit, let’s have that. We’ve been having that
for the last two years. We just had an entire
campaign about it. And by the way, the American
people agreed with me that we should reduce our deficits in
a balanced way that also takes into account the need for us
to grow this economy and put people back to work. And despite that conversation,
and despite the election results, the position that’s
been taken on the part of some House Republicans is that,
“no, we’ve got to do it our way, and if we don’t, we simply
won’t pay America’s bills.” Well, that can’t be a position
that is sustainable over time. It’s not one that’s
good for the economy now. It’s certainly not going to be
the kind of precedent that I want to establish not just for
my presidency, but for future Presidents, even if it
was on the other side. Democrats don’t like voting
for the debt ceiling when a Republican is President, and
yet you — but you never saw a situation in which Democrats
suggested somehow that we would go ahead and default if we
didn’t get 100% of our way. That’s just not how
it’s supposed to work. Jon Karl. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. On the issue of guns, given how
difficult it will be — some would say impossible — to get
any gun control measure passed through this Congress, what are
you willing or able to do, using the powers of your presidency,
to act without Congress? And I’d also like to know, what
do you make of these long lines we’re seeing at gun shows
and gun stores all around the country? I mean, even in Connecticut,
applications for guns are up since the shooting in Newtown. The President:
Well, my understanding is the
Vice President is going to provide a range of steps that we
can take to reduce gun violence. Some of them will
require legislation. Some of them I can accomplish
through executive action. And so I’ll be
reviewing those today. And as I said, I’ll speak in
more detail to what we’re going to go ahead and propose
later in the week. But I’m confident that there are
some steps that we can take that don’t require legislation and
that are within my authority as President. And where you get a step that
has the opportunity to reduce the possibility of gun
violence then I want to go ahead and take it. The Press:
Any idea of what kind of steps? The President:
Well, I think, for example,
how we are gathering data, for example, on guns that fall into
the hands of criminals, and how we track that more effectively
— there may be some steps that we can take administratively
as opposed through legislation. As far as people lining up and
purchasing more guns, I think that we’ve seen for some time
now that those who oppose any common-sense gun control or gun
safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up
fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federal
government is about to take all your guns away. And there’s probably an
economic element to that. It obviously is
good for business. But I think that those of us
who look at this problem have repeatedly said that responsible
gun owners, people who have a gun for protection, for hunting,
for sportsmanship, they don’t have anything to worry about. The issue here is not
whether or not we believe in the Second Amendment. The issue is, are there some
sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like
the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun
down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion. And surely, we can do
something about that. But part of the challenge that
we confront is, is that even the slightest hint of some sensible,
responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that
somehow, here it comes and everybody’s guns are
going to be taken away. It’s unfortunate,
but that’s the case. And if you look at over
the first four years of my administration, we’ve tried to
tighten up and enforce some of the laws that were
already on the books. But it would be pretty hard to
argue that somehow gun owners have had their rights infringed. The Press:
So you think this is an
irrational fear that’s driving all these people
to go and stock up — The President:
Excuse me? The Press:
Do you think this is
an irrational fear — The President:
Well, as I said, I think it’s
a fear that’s fanned by those who are worried about
the possibility of any legislation getting out there. Julianna Goldman. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. I just want to come back to the
debt ceiling, because in the summer of 2011, you said that
you wouldn’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, and you did. Last year, you said that you
wouldn’t extend any of the Bush tax cuts for the
wealthy, and you did. So as you say now that you’re
not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling this year, why
should House Republicans take that seriously and think
that if we get to the one-minute-to-midnight
scenario, that you’re not going to back down? The President:
Well, first of all, Julianna,
let’s take the example of this year and the fiscal cliff. I didn’t say that I would not
have any conversations at all about extending
the Bush tax cuts. What I said was we weren’t going
to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — and we didn’t. Now, you can argue that during
the campaign I said — I set the criteria for wealthy at
$250,000 and we ended up being at $400,000. But the fact of the matter is
millionaires, billionaires are paying significantly more
in taxes, just as I said. So from the start, my concern
was making sure that we had a tax code that was fair and that
protected the middle class, and my biggest priority was making
sure that middle-class taxes did not go up. The difference between this
year and 2011 is the fact that we’ve already made
$1.2 trillion in cuts. And at the time, I indicated
that there were cuts that we could sensibly make that
would not damage our economy, would not impede growth. I said at the time I think we
should pair it up with revenue in order to have an
overall balanced package. But my own budget reflected
cuts in discretionary spending. My own budget reflected the
cuts that needed to be made, and we’ve made those cuts. Now, the challenge going forward
is that we’ve now made some big cuts, and if we’re going to do
further deficit reduction, the only way to do it is in a
balanced and responsible way. The alternative is for us to go
ahead and cut commitments that we’ve made on things like
Medicare, or Social Security, or Medicaid, and for us to
fundamentally change commitments that we’ve made to make sure
that seniors don’t go into poverty, or that children
who are disabled are properly cared for. For us to change that contract
we’ve made with the American people rather than look at
options like closing loopholes for corporations that they don’t
need, that points to a long-term trend in which we have
fundamentally, I think, undermined what people expect
out of this government — which is that parties sit down, they
negotiate, they compromise, but they also reflect the will of
the American people; that you don’t have one narrow faction
that is able to simply dictate 100% of what they want all the
time or otherwise threaten that we destroy the American economy. Another way of putting it
is we’ve got to break the habit of negotiating through
crisis over and over again. And now is as good of a time as
any, at the start of my second term, because if we continue
down this path, then there’s really no stopping
the principle. I mean, literally — even in
divided government, even where we’ve got a Democratic President
and a Democratic Senate, that a small group in the House of
Representatives could simply say every two months, every three
months, every six months, every year, we are going to more and
more change the economy in ways that we prefer, despite strong
objections of Americans all across the country, or otherwise
we’re going to have America not pay its bills. And that is no way
for us to do business. And by the way, I would make
the same argument if it was a Republican President and a
Republican Senate and you had a handful of Democrats who were
suggesting that we are going to hijack the process and make sure
that either we get our way 100% of the time, or otherwise
we are going to default on America’s obligations. The Press:
(inaudible) — line
in the sand negotiating, how is that (inaudible)
to the economy? The President:
No, no, look, what I’ve said
is that I’m happy to have a conversation about
deficit reduction — The Press:
So you technically are
willing to negotiate? The President:
No, Julianna, look, this
is pretty straightforward. Either Congress pays
its bills or it doesn’t. Now, if — and they want to keep
this responsibility; if John Boehner and Mitch McConnell
think that they can come up with a plan that somehow meets their
criteria that they’ve set for why they will — when they will
raise the debt ceiling, they’re free to go ahead and try. But the proposals that they’ve
put forward in order to accomplish that — only by
cutting spending — means cuts to things like Medicare
and education that the American people profoundly reject. Now, if they think that they
can get that through Congress, then they’re free to try. But I think that a better way of
doing this is go ahead and say, we’re going to pay our bills. The question now is how do we
actually get our deficit in a manageable, sustainable way? And that’s a conversation
I’m happy to have. All right. Matt Spetalnick. The Press:
Thank you, sir. You’ve spoken extensively
about the debt ceiling debate, but some Republicans have
further said that they’re willing to allow a government
shutdown to take place rather than put off deep spending cuts. Are you prepared to allow the
government to grind to a halt if you disagree with the spending
cut proposals they put forth? And who do you think the
American people would blame if that came to pass? The President:
Well, ultimately, Congress makes
the decisions about whether or not we spend money and
whether or not we keep this government open. And if the Republicans in
Congress have made a decision that they want to shut down the
government in order to get their way then they have the votes
at least in the House of Representatives,
probably, to do that. I think that would be a mistake. I think it would be profoundly
damaging to our economy. I think it would actually add
to our deficit because it will impede growth. I think it’s shortsighted. But they’re elected
representatives, and folks put them into those positions
and they’re going to have to make a decision about that. And I don’t — I suspect that
the American people would blame all of Washington for not being
able to get its act together. But the larger issue here has
to do with what is it that we’re trying to accomplish. Are we trying to
reduce the deficit? Because if we’re trying to
reduce the deficit, then we can shape a bipartisan
plan to reduce the deficit. I mean, is that
really our objective? Our concern is that we’re
spending more than we take in, and if that’s the case, then
there’s a way of balancing that out so that we take in more
money in increasing revenue and we reduce spending. And there’s a recipe
for getting that done. And in the conversations that I
had with Speaker Boehner before the end of the year, we came
pretty close — a few hundred billion dollars separating us
when stretched over a 10-year period, that’s not a lot. But it seems as if what’s
motivating and propelling at this point some of the House
Republicans is more than simply deficit reduction. They have a particular vision
about what government should and should not do. So they are suspicious about
government’s commitments, for example, to make sure that
seniors have decent health care as they get older. They have suspicions
about Social Security. They have suspicions about
whether government should make sure that kids in poverty
are getting enough to eat, or whether we should be spending
money on medical research. So they’ve got a particular
view of what government should do and should be. And that view was rejected by
the American people when it was debated during the
presidential campaign. I think every poll that’s
out there indicates that the American people actually think
our commitment to Medicare or to education is really important,
and that’s something that we should look at as a last
resort in terms of reducing the deficit, and it makes a
lot more sense for us to close, for example, corporate loopholes
before we go to putting a bigger burden on students or seniors. But if the House Republicans
disagree with that and they want to shut down the government to
see if they can get their way on it, that’s their prerogative. That’s how the system is set up. It will damage our economy. The government is a big part
of this economy, and it’s interesting that a lot of times
you have people who recognize that when it comes to defense
spending — some of the same folks who say we’ve got to
cut spending, or complain that government jobs don’t do
anything, when it comes to that defense contractor in their
district, they think, wow, this is a pretty important part of
the economy in my district and we shouldn’t stop
spending on that. Let’s just make sure we’re not
spending on those other folks. The Press:
— find agreement with
Republicans on this and — The President:
Look, my hope is, is that
common sense prevails. That’s always my preference. And I think that would the
preference of the American people, and that’s what would
be good for the economy. So let me just repeat: If the
issue is deficit reduction, getting our deficits sustainable
over time, getting our debt in a sustainable place, then
Democrats and Republicans in Congress will have
a partner with me. We can achieve that, and we
can achieve it fairly quickly. I mean, we know what
the numbers are. We know what needs to be done. We know what a balanced
approach would take. We’ve already done probably
more than half of the deficit reduction we need to stabilize
the debt and the deficit. There’s probably been more pain
and drama in getting there than we needed. And so finishing the job
shouldn’t be that difficult — if everybody comes to the
conversation with an open mind, and if we recognize that there
are some things, like not paying our bills, that should
be out of bounds. All right. I’m going to take
one last question. Jackie Calmes. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. The President:
Yes. The Press:
I’d like to ask you, now
that you’ve reached the end of your first term,
starting your second, about a couple of criticisms
— one that’s longstanding, another more recent. The longstanding one seems to
have become a truism of sorts that you’re — you and
your staff are too insular, that you don’t socialize enough. And the second, the more recent
criticism is that your team taking shape isn’t diverse —
isn’t as diverse as it could be, or even was, in terms of getting
additional voices, gender, race, ethnic diversity. So I’d like you to
address both of those. The President:
Sure. Let me take
the second one first. I’m very proud that in the first
four years we had as diverse, if not more diverse, a White
House and a Cabinet than any in history. And I intend to continue that,
because it turns out that when you look for the very best
people, given the incredible diversity of this country,
you’re going to end up with a diverse staff
and a diverse team. And that very diversity helps
to create more effective policymaking and better
decision-making for me, because it brings different
perspectives to the table. So if you think about my first
four years, the person who probably had the most
influence on my foreign policy was a woman. The people who were in charge of
moving forward my most important domestic initiative,
health care, were women. The person in charge of our
homeland security was a woman. My two appointments to the
Supreme Court were women, and 50% of my White
House staff were women. So I think people should expect
that that record will be built upon during the next four years. Now, what, I’ve made
four appointments so far? And one women — admittedly, a
high-profile one — is leaving the — has already left the
administration, and I have made a replacement. But I would just suggest that
everybody kind of wait until they’ve seen all my
appointments, who’s in the White House staff and
who’s in my Cabinet before they rush to judgment. The Press:
(inaudible) — the big three. The President:
Yes, but I guess what I’m
saying, Jackie, is that I think until you’ve seen what my
overall team looks like, it’s premature to assume that
somehow we’re going backwards. We’re not going backwards,
we’re going forward. With respect to this “truism”
about me not socializing enough and patting folks on the back
and all that stuff, most people who know me know I’m
a pretty friendly guy. (laughter) And I like a good party. (laughter) And the truth is that when I
was in the Senate, I had great relationships over there, and
up until the point that I became President this was not an
accusation that you heard very frequently. I think that really what’s
gone on in terms of some of the paralysis here in Washington
or difficulties in negotiations just have to do with some very
stark differences in terms of policy, some very sharp
differences in terms of where we stand on issues. And if you think about, let’s
say, myself and Speaker Boehner, I like Speaker Boehner
personally, and when we went out and played golf
we had a great time. But that didn’t get
a deal done in 2011. When I’m over here at the
congressional picnic and folks are coming up and taking
pictures with their family, I promise you, Michelle and
I are very nice to them and we have a wonderful time. (laughter) But it doesn’t prevent them
from going onto the floor of the House and blasting me for
being a big-spending socialist. (laughter) And the reason that, in many
cases, Congress votes the way they do, or talks the way they
talk, or takes positions in negotiations that they take
doesn’t have to do with me. It has to do with the
imperatives that they feel in terms of their
own politics — right? They’re worried
about their district. They’re worried about
what’s going on back home. I think there are a lot of
Republicans at this point that feel that given how much energy
has been devoted in some of the media that’s preferred by
Republican constituencies to demonize me, that it doesn’t
look real good socializing with me. Charlie Crist down in Florida
I think testifies to that. And I think a lot of folks say,
well, if we look like we’re being too cooperative or too
chummy with the President that might cause us problems. That might be an excuse for us
to get a challenge from somebody in a primary. So that tends to
be the challenge. I promise you, we invite
folks from Congress over here all the time. And when they choose to
come, I enjoy their company. Sometimes they don’t choose to
come, and that has to do with the fact that I think they don’t
consider the optics useful for them politically. And, ultimately, the way we’re
going to get stuff done — personal relationships are
important, and obviously I can always do a better job, and the
nice thing is, is that now that my girls are getting older, they
don’t want to spend that much time with me anyway, so I’ll
be probably calling around, looking for somebody to play
cards with me or something, because I’m getting kind of
lonely in this big house. (laughter) So maybe a whole bunch of
members of the House Republican caucus want to come
over and socialize more. But my suspicion is getting the
issues resolved that we just talked about, the big stuff —
whether or not we get sensible laws passed to prevent gun
violence, whether or not America is paying its bills, whether or
not we get immigration reform done — all that’s going to be
determined largely by where the respective parties stand
on policy, and maybe most importantly, the attitude
of the American people. If the American people feel
strongly about these issues and they push hard, and they reward
or don’t reward members of Congress with their votes,
if they reject sort of uncompromising positions or
sharp partisanship or always looking out for the next
election, and they reward folks who are trying to find common
ground, then I think you’ll see behavior in Congress change. And that will be true whether
I’m the life of the party or a stick in the mud. All right. Thank you
very much, everybody.

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