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Interview With David Crabtree of WRAL

April 18, 2011

David Crabtree. Mr. President thank you for your time. We are going through a very tough time in North Carolina. Multiple death, destruction in ways we haven't seen in years. The governor said this morning she's grateful for FEMA's insistence on being there quickly, but the state needs a lot of help, a lot of money.

The President. Right. Well look, I spoke to governor Purdue yesterday. Obviously we are all heart broken by the loss of life, and I expressed to her heartfelt condolences from Michelle and myself for all the families that have been affected. Obviously, those who lost a loved one are feeling this most severely, but if you've lost a home or a business, it's pretty tough as well. What I have assured her is that we are going to do everything we can to help rebuild. FEMA's already on the ground, it's making its assessments. There's strong state/federal coordination and you know, there's a reason why we budget for these kinds of national disasters. We are going to have to help folks rebuild and it's going to take a little bit of time but the people in North Carolina are very resilient and we're confident that they're gonna make it happen.

David Crabtree. And you're confident the money, whatever that money may be, will be there?

The President. Well, as I said, you know there are certain things that we don't cut corners on and one of those is making sure that the American family comes together in the face of natural disaster like this one.

David Crabtree. Speaking of money, your fiscal policy, what your vision is now for the country, ideology and priorities seem to find their way into budgets no matter who is writing the budget. So a question becomes if you had to choose between getting through Congress the kind of changes you believe this country needs or reelection, how do you make that choice?

The President. Well I think you—you always start with good policy, and my assumption is that good politics then follows from that. So last week I laid out my vision for the future. Look, we've got a very serious debt and deficit problem, most of it was a result of the last 10 years us not paying for things that we needed to pay for. Big tax cuts, two wars, prescription drug plan none of which were paid for. And then we had the worst recession in 50 years, and I had to step up and make sure that we were helping states so they didn't have to lay off teachers and police officers and firefighters and that all cost money. And we provided tax cuts to every American to help them get through the recession. So you know, right now we need to make sure that we're living within our means both medium and long term. And there's a way of doing that where we cut about 2 trillion dollars worth of spending, that we raise about a trillion dollars worth of revenue, mainly from folks like myself who can afford to pay a little bit more, closing loopholes and making the tax system fair. And that saves us about a trillion dollars in interest costs. So we can save about 4 trillion dollars.

Now, we're also gonna have to make sure that we continue to drive down health care costs in medicare and medicaid, and that's part of what healthcare reform was all about last year. There is a contrasting vision. And you know, the Republicans in the house voted last week a system that would voucherize the medicare program so that basically seniors couldn't count on medicare being there, they would get a certain amount of money and if insurance companies said "you know what, that's not enough to buy you converge," you'd be out of luck. And I think that's the wrong way to go. I think we can make changes to the healthcare system that's smarter and works better without changing medicare in a fundamental way.

They're also talking about cutting things like eduction by 25% and support for energy research and medical research. All the things that are important to put people back to work, including in North Carolina. I mean, I've seen some of the work that's been done in some of the campuses in the triangle down there, and that's the future. So we have to invest in that and cut back on the things we don't need, while making the changes that we do.

David Crabtree. I've talked to several people last week, and one theme continued to come up Mr. President. And three word: struggle, suffocation, and scared. People are really still struggling, to those people what word of encouragement do you have?

The President. Well, here's what I'd say. When I came into office, we were going through the worst economy that we've seen since the Great Depression. Since then, we've been able to stabilize the economy, get it growing again, and now over the last year, year and a half we've seen two million private sector jobs created. So the unemployment rate is dropping, jobs are starting to come back. You're starting to see businesses are starting to reinvest, they're making a lot of profit. And so— and this December what we did was we passed a payroll tax cut and a business investment tax cut that is helping to spur the economy further. But we were in a deep hole, and it takes some time to dig out. And so what I say to families, and I get 10 letters a day from families who are talking about struggles without a job, losing their homes, you know gas prices, I say to them, "Every day I wake up understanding how many folks are struggling out there. And we are just going to keep on making steady progress until we've come all the way back." And I'm not going to rest, I'm not going to be satisfied until everyone who wants a job is able to find a job. But it's going to take a little time.

David Crabtree. Military presence in North Carolina is huge. You've a lot of people deployed, second, third, fourth, fifth, deployments. Foreclosure rates are up, people are really concerned in that community. I know the first lady was just in campus union just last week. To those in the military who are really struggling, maybe more than some the others, is there a light at the end of their tunnel?

The President. Well first of all, we've tried to be very protective in terms of military pay, military benefits. And as you just pointed out, the first lady is leading the charge when it comes to support for military families. And now I have every agency federal department, all of them, not just the Defense Department, not just Veterns Affairs, but every department thinking about how are we help military families on things like daycare, on spousal spinning jobs when they get stationed to a new location. So we're going to keep on working on those things —veterans benefits, things like the post 9/11 GI Bill, to make sure that people can go back to school. But there are areas where military families are still having a tough time. And you identified one of them, which is ironically, the financial system. Credit card companies, mortgage brokers, a lot of those folks have taken advantage of military families just—more than just about anyone else. Which is sad to say and is fundamentally unpatriotic. This is part of what our Wall street reform was actually all about, we've put in place a consumer finance protection bureau that is specifically working with the Department of Defense and others so that military families have good information so that they don't get suckered into a bad mortgage that they can't pay back, so that they're not ending up taking out loans that end up having huge interest rate spikes later down the road. This is part of the reason why financial reform was so important is to make sure that we are providing consumers the information they need to make good choices on their own.

David Crabtree. I have to wrap it up. Will you come back to play basketball in Carolina again soon?

The President. Well you know, I'm going to have to go back there. I will tell you I lasted about 5 minutes on the court with Tyler Hansbrough and Lawson, and now I'm watching them in the NBA finals and so I don't feel so bad that they were running circles around me. But I think I realized I was getting a little too old to keep up with—with a bunch of 20 somethings who were basically swatting all my shots away.

David Crabtree. Pretty good head faith though?

The President. Not bad.

David Crabtree. Mr. President, thank you so much for you time.

The President. Thank you sir, I appreciate you.

David Crabtree. All the best to you, thank you.

The President. God Bless you. Thank you very much.

Barack Obama, Interview With David Crabtree of WRAL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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