Barack Obama photo

Interview with Scott Pelley of the CBS "Evening News"

February 03, 2013

PELLEY: Thanks, J.B.

We're in the Blue Room of the White House.

Mr. President, very kind of you to take the time. Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT: Great to be with you.

PELLEY: There has been concern about the safety of football at all levels, high school, college and in the NFL. If you had a son, would you let him play?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said before, I'd have to think about it. You know, it's hard to say no to a kid when they've got a passion for something. And I've got daughters. They don't have a passion for football. It is a great sport. I am a huge fan. But there is no doubt that, you know, some of the concerns that we've learned about when it comes to concussions have to give parents pause.

And you know, as I've said before, I feel differently about the NFL. These are grown men. They -- they're well-compensated. They know the risks that are involved. But as we start thinking about, you know, the pipeline -- Pop Warner, high school, college -- I want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make the sport safer. And that means that the game's probably going to evolve a little bit. And for those of us who like to see a big hit and enjoy, you know, the "rock 'em, sock 'em," you know, elements of the game, you know, we're probably going to be occasionally frustrated. I know defensive players in the NFL get frustrated now because some of the changes of the rules.

But I do think that we want to make sure that after people have played the game that they're going to be OK. And I'm glad to see that the NFL is starting to take this seriously. I understand that Commissioner Goodell has authorized $30 million to the NIH to help study issues of how we can prevent concussions. But these are serious issues, and especially for younger kids, as well as college players who don't make a big -- a big salary playing the sport. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to keep them safe.

PELLEY: It was right here in this room two weeks ago today that you took the oath of office for the second time, to begin your second term. So let me ask you about the next four years.

You have just raised tax rates on families that make more than $450,000 a year and above.


PELLEY: Are you through raising tax rates?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- I don't think the issue right now is raising rates. The question is: If we're going to be serious about reducing our deficit, can we combine some smart spending cuts -- because there's still some waste in government? Can we reform our health care programs in particular? Because we spent a lot more on health care than every other country does and we don't get better outcomes, so there is a lot of waste in the system, and there are things that we can do to reduce health care costs. And can we close some loopholes and deductions that folks who are well-connected and have a lot of accountants and lawyers can take advantage of, so they end up paying lower rates than, you know, as bus driver or a cop -- can we close some of those loopholes?

If you combine those things together, then we can not only reduce our deficit, but we can continue to invest in things like education and research and development that are going to help us grow.

PELLEY: Without raising rates again.

THE PRESIDENT: Without raising rates again.

PELLEY: So I'm not hearing you say, read my lips, no new taxes. You think there is going to have to be additional revenue over the next four years.

THE PRESIDENT: There is no doubt we need additional revenue coupled with smart spending reductions in order to bring down our deficit.

And we can do it in a gradual way so it doesn't have a huge impact. And as I said, when you look at some of these deductions that certain folks are able to take advantage of, the average person can't take advantage of. The average person doesn't have access to Cayman Island accounts. The average person doesn't have access to carried interest income where they end up paying a much lower rate on billions of dollars that they're earned. And so we just want to make sure that the whole system is fair, that it's transparent and that we're reducing our deficit in a way that doesn't hamper growth, reduce the kinds of, you know, strategies that we need in order to make sure that we're creating good jobs and a strong middle class.

PELLEY: American women have fought in many of our wars. Some of them have been killed and wounded in our wars. But the Pentagon just announced a major policy change --


PELLEY: -- opening hundreds of front-line combat jobs to women.


PELLEY: Do you have any hesitation, as commander in chief, ordering women into combat?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I don't. And the reason is become -- because women, as a practical matter, are now in combat. They may not get treated as if they're in combat, but when they're in theater in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, they are vulnerable, they are wounded, and they've been killed.

And they have carried out their jobs with extraordinary patriotism and distinction. And, you know, I've said before the greatest honor I have as president is being commander in chief. And I meet extraordinary women in uniform who can do everything that a man can and more.

And you know, one of my military aides is about 5 feet tall, probably weighs about a hundred pounds. You put a 50-pound pack on her, and she can do things that you or me would keel over doing.

And so, you know, the truth is, is that women are serving. They are taking great risks. What we should not do is somehow prevent them from advancing in an institution that we all revere.

PELLEY: Next week the board of the Boy Scouts of America is going to vote on whether to end their national ban on gays in scouting. Should scouting be open to gays?


PELLEY: Why so?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, because I think that -- you know, my attitude is, is that gays and lesbians should have access and -- and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life. And you know, the Scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to, you know, opportunities and leadership that, you know, will serve people for the rest of their lives. And I think that nobody should be barred for that.

PELLEY: We found out last week that the economy actually shrank in the last three months of last year. If the federal spending cuts that are on tap for March actually take effect, will that push the country into recession?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know if it'll put -- push the country into recession. But here's what we know: The reason that the economy shrank a little bit, despite the fact that housing is recovering, manufacturing is going strong, car sales are up -- you know, truth is, is that overall, there were a lot of positive signs in the economy. The big problem was defense spending was cut 22 percent.

It was the biggest drop in 40 years, and it was very abrupt. And it had to do with, you know, folks being worried about the possible impacts of the fiscal cliff and what goes on here in Washington.

And what I've said repeatedly is, you know, Washington cannot continually operate under a cloud of crisis. That freezes up consumers. It gets businesses worried. We -- we can't afford these self-inflicted wounds.

And there is a way for us to solve these budget problems in a responsible way, through a balanced approach that the vast majority of people agree with. If we do that, there's no reason why we can't have really strong growth in 2013. But you know, we can't have Washington dysfunction getting in the way.

PELLEY: Mr. President, thank you for having us in today. I hope you enjoy the game. Enjoy Super Bowl Sunday.

THE PRESIDENT: It is going to be a great game. I got some -- some wings waiting for me upstairs.

PELLEY: Thank you again, sir.

Barack Obama, Interview with Scott Pelley of the CBS "Evening News" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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