Barack Obama photo

Interview With Wolf Blitzer of CNN

August 16, 2011

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much for joining us.

THE PRESIDENT: Great to be here.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about jobs, jobs, jobs, issue number one. You are going to release a major new jobs program, you say, in September. Here's the question. What's taken so long?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the truth is, everything we have done has been related to jobs, starting back with the Recovery Act. And that's the reason why we have seen over two million jobs created over the last 17 months in the private sector. But what's happened is that, number one, you have seen a lot of layoffs at state and local government. And that has been an impediment to the kind of robust job growth that we'd like to -- we'd like to see; and there have been some headwinds over the last six months, you know, Japan's tsunami, the European debt crisis, what happened in terms of the Arab Spring that raised gas prices for consumers, so...

BLITZER: So give us a preview what you're going to do in September.


THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, there are some things that we've been talking about on this trip that we could do right away that are already pending before Congress.

We know that what we did in December by cutting the payroll tax so that the average family gets an extra thousand dollars in their pocket makes a huge difference, not only for their purchasing power, but also businesses having more customers and being able to hire.

We've continued to renew tax breaks for businesses that are willing to move up investments that they're planning into 2011, and we'd like to renew some of those for 2012.

Trade deals with Korea and Panama and Colombia, we know can create tens of thousands of jobs here in the United States.

So there are a number of things that we've already got pending before Congress, and what I have been saying to crowds all across the country -- it's been getting a good reception -- is what they want to see is Democrats and Republicans putting country before party, and going ahead and taking action in terms of move the economy forward as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: But you've got something much more ambitious in mind for this September. There's been reports you want to create a new department of jobs, something along those lines. Is that true?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, that is not true.

But what is true is that I think we missed an opportunity a month ago when we could have dealt with our debt and deficit in a serious, balanced way that would have avoided these huge gyrations in the financial markets, given businesses a lot of confidence that Washington had its fiscal house in order, and included in that, because of the savings that we'd be getting over the next 10, 20 years, more efforts on the front end to spur job creation.

And given that Congress failed to act, the grand bargain that I was trying to cut with John Boehner didn't happen, we're going to take one more run at Congress, and we're going to say to them, look, here is a comprehensive approach that gets our debt and deficits under control and also accelerates job growth right now.

BLITZER: Is this an initiative you're going to give to the so- called super committee, or is this something separate from that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I hope the super committee takes its job seriously. And, obviously, there's an added sense of urgency, given how anxious I think businesses and consumers are after the debacle surrounding the debt ceiling.

But my attitude is that I'm going to make my best case for where we need to go. We've made progress since the start of this recession back in 2008. It hasn't been fast enough. We've got to accelerate it, and there are two things that need to happen.

Number one, we've got to make sure that people have confidence we've got our fiscal house in order and that we're living within our means, eliminating programs that don't work.

Number two, there's some immediate things we can do around infrastructure, tax policy, that would make a difference in terms of people hiring right now.

BLITZER: When you took office, you said this -- and I'm sure you remember -- you said, "If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition," meaning you're going to be a one-term president.

You remember that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, here's what I remember, is that, when I came into office, I knew I was going to have a big mess to clean up. And, frankly, the mess has been bigger than I think a lot of people anticipated at the time.

We have made steady progress on these fronts, but we're not making progress fast enough. And what I continue to believe is that ultimately the buck stops with me. I'm going to be accountable. I think people understand that a lot of these problems were decades in the making. People understand that this financial crisis was the worst since the Great Depression. But, ultimately, they say, look, he's the president, we think he has good intentions, but we're impatient and we want to see things move faster.

And I understand that, I'm sympathetic to it, and we're going to just keep on putting forward ideas that are going to be good for the country. We're going to need a partner from Congress, and we're going to need folks to move off some of these rigid positions they have been taking in order to solve these problems.

BLITZER: I'm going to go through some specifics on that, but let's talk about some things that you need to do.

You, yourself, have said you support modest modifications in Medicare. Give me specifics.


Well, what I'm going do -- I'm not going to make news here, Wolf, in terms of what a comprehensive plan would look like -- but what I have consistently said is that Medicare, health -- and health care costs generally are out of control, that the health reforms that we initiated are starting to reduce those costs, but we're going to have to do more, particularly around Medicare and Medicaid.

BLITZER: Changing the cost of living index?

THE PRESIDENT: What we -- what we...

BLITZER: ... which would reduce the amount of money for Medicare, Social Security recipients?

THE PRESIDENT: As much as possible, what we'd like to do is actually reduce the cost of health care, as opposed to just shifting the cost from the government to seniors. That -- that...


BLITZER: But a change in the cost of living, is that something you're open to?

THE PRESIDENT: The problem with some of the proposals we've seen, including some of the proposals coming out of the House of Representatives and the Republicans there, is they don't really address what they -- what it takes to reduce costs.

What they say is, senior citizens, we're going to voucherize it, and whatever inflation there is you're going to have to cover out of pocket. So seniors might have to spend $6,000 more.

What we say is, are there modifications that can change the delivery system and how health care is delivered so that you don't have to take five tests, you take one, so that providers are not ordering unnecessary procedures, but focusing on what actually works?

The more we can do those kinds of changes -- and, in some cases, you know, that involves empowering consumers to make better choices -- then we can hopefully control these costs without seeing any radical change to the basic structure of Medicare.

BLITZER: Why don't you support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I support balancing our budget. The question is, do we need to change our Constitution to do it? We didn't for a lot of years.

And what we've always said was that the federal government needs, as a actor of last resort, if we've got a war, if we've got a recession, to be able to step in, in ways that states or local governments can't do.

BLITZER: Couldn't you write language into that so that, in case of an emergency, a war, there would be exempt -- exceptions?

THE PRESIDENT: I guess here's the question, is, why can't Congress simply make good choices? Why can't the president and Congress, working together, get a handle on our debt and deficits?

Why do we need to go through a constitutional amendment process and have a whole bunch of contortions and try to write in every single contingency that might come up, instead of simply saying the same thing that families all across Iowa and all across the country do, which is, you know what, here's how much money we're bring in, here's how much we're spending, and if it's out of balance, let's fix it?

BLITZER: It's clear Congress can't do that. That's why they need -- the argument is. Seventy-four percent, according to our own CNN/ORC poll, want a balanced budget amendment.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, here's my suspicion. I think 100 percent of the American people want Congress to act responsibly. A hundred percent of the people want us to make sensible choices.

We don't need to amend our Constitution in order to do that. What we need is folks acting responsibly and saying here's a balanced package that would actually get our debt and our deficit to a manageable place.

And here's the thing, Wolf, is, it doesn't require that much. I mean, you know, our fiscal situation is so much stronger than so many countries around the world, including a lot of European countries. And the reason is, is because all we have to do is make some modest changes in terms of what we spend, and make some modest changes in terms of raising revenue, and we could get things into balance.

The problem we have is a political system in which you've got one side or the other that says, here's the line in the sand. We're not going to make any changes.

When I saw our Republican presidential primary candidates suggesting that they wouldn't be willing to close a single loophole or close a single special interest tax break, even if they were going to get $10 of savings for every $1 of revenue that raised, that is no longer thinking in a commonsense way. At that point, what you're saying is ideology rigidity that is preventing us from solving problems.

BLITZER: Because you keep saying that there are some in Congress -- and you don't say who -- some in Congress who are more interested in political gain than really helping the country.


BLITZER: Who do you mean by that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I think there is no doubt that the deal that I put forward to Speaker Boehner, which a lot of people in my party attacked me for, because they thought that we were going too far, we were being too generous in terms of trying to compromise, the fact that they couldn't accept a deal in which you had significantly more cuts than revenue, that would have done substantially more to close our deficit than the deal that ultimately we arrived at, the fact that Speaker Boehner and folks in his caucus couldn't say yes to that tells me that they're more interested in the politics of it than they are in solving the problem.

And I think -- to his credit, I think Speaker Boehner tried. I think he wanted to, but I think he had problems with members of his caucus that thought that somehow cooperation with this White House would help us politically, as opposed to thinking, what's going -- what's it going to take to help the country as a whole?

Barack Obama, Interview With Wolf Blitzer of CNN Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives