JOHN HARWOOD: Mr. President, thanks for doing this.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, John.
HARWOOD: You got Speaker Boehner and the bipartisan leadership coming down to the White House this afternoon. I want to see if you can clear up a little confusion about your position on something. And that is you’ve said you’re not going to negotiate the destruction of your healthcare plan, you’re not going to negotiate on the debt limit. Exactly what are you prepared to negotiate on and when?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m prepared to negotiate on anything. I think it’s important for us to talk about how we create a budget that is creating jobs, encouraging growth, dealing with our long-term debt issues. The deficits are coming down— at the fastest pace since World War II. They’ve been cut in half since I came into office. But we still have some challenges in terms of— our long-term health care spending on Medicare in particular.
So— whatever the leadership wants to talk about, we’ve got a budget and we think we’ve got some good answers. But we don’t expect 100 percent. But what I’ve also said is that it is not acceptable for one faction of one party in one chamber to say, “Either we get what we want, or we’ll shut down the government.” Or even worse— “We will not allow the U.S. Treasury to pay its bills and put the United States in default for the first time in history.” So— the message I have for the leaders is very simple. As soon as we get a clean— piece of legislation that reopens the government, and there is a majority for that right now in the House of Representatives—
HARWOOD: But no negotiation until after that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Until we get that done, until we make sure that— Congress allows treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized— we are not going to engage in a series of negotiations. And the reason, John, is very simple. If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it’s Democrat or Republican— are allowed to extort concessions— based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me, not just me— will find themselves unable— to govern effectively.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And that is not something that I’m going to allow to happen.
HARWOOD: An aide to the speaker yesterday, when I asked him, “Where can this get resolved,” ultimately said, “End budget negotiation may be involving replacement of sequester cuts with entitlement cuts.” If you get to that discussion, is it conceivable, or are there any circumstances under which you could make a budget deal with Republicans that does not involve new taxes?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I think it is possible for us to— make sure that we are not increasing the income tax rate, that is something that was debated during the campaign. That’s now behind us. I think it is very important for us to continue to cut out programs that are unnecessary, not working— some of them need to be reformed. It is important for us to deal with our long-term entitlement spending.
But I also think it’s important for us to make sure that we’re investing in the things that are going to help the economy grow. And I’ll just give you one specific example, and that’s our infrastructure. Every business that’s watching this program relies on good roads, airports that function, ports that are working. And we are vastly under-investing in what is critical for our long-term growth. We’ve got to find a way to pay for that. So—
HARWOOD: But is there any deal you could accept, even a small deal, that does not involve revenue, which is the problem on the Republicans side?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well— I think we have to distinguish between income tax hikes, which— they’ve always been adverse to—
HARWOOD: You mean loopholes too? No revenue?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think that we’re going to have to close the loopholes in order to pay for those things that are going to help us grow. But the important point here John is that in the normal give-and-take between parties— that’s something that we should be able to solve. Keep in mind in terms of reopening the government, what Democrats have already said they’re willing to do is to vote for reopening the government at funding levels that the Republicans have established and that the Democrats don’t like.
So if John Boehner puts the Senate bill on the floor right now, that maintains the status quo. It doesn’t increase government spending beyond where it already is, it’s far short of what Democrats think are necessary for us to invest in things like education and— research and development and all the things that are important, but what we’re saying is, we’ll put everything on hold, we can enter into robust negotiations around all these issues, Democrats won’t get 100% of what they want, Republicans won’t either. But that’s the kind of democratic process the American people expect.
HARWOOD: The— before the election last year, you said you thought there was a possibility your reelection would break the fever within the Republican party. It didn’t happen. Do you see this moment as a chance, through this political confrontation, to break the fever now?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, the interesting thing John is that the majority of Republicans around the country, you know, people who voted Republican— they may disagree with me on a whole range of issues. But they also recognize that a democracy only works if everybody’s following the rules. That there’s going to be some give and take. And I think that’s actually true for a whole lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill.
There are a lot of Republican senators and congressmen, some of them who’ve publicly said, “We disagree with the president on a whole host of issues. But what we shouldn’t be doing is shutting down the government, hurting our economy, having 800,000 federal workers who have no idea whether they’re going to be able to pay the bills at the end of the month, and certainly what we shouldn’t be doing is— creating a potential financial catastrophe if the United States defaults.”
The last time there was even a threat of default back in 2011, we know that the economy did not grow, it went backwards during that quarter. We know that— as a consequence, we got downgraded. And that’s not something that any of us should want to repeat. We’ve got to take that off the table.
HARWOOD: As you try to appeal to those other Republicans you think you could work with, I wonder about your tone lately. I have heard from you— an increasing amount of exasperation, an edge— even mockery sometimes. You said one time recently— “Keep hoping a light bulb goes off.” And it gives the impression that you think that your Republican opponents are either craven or stupid or nuts. Is that what you think? And if you think so, does it help your cause to let people see that out loud?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: John, I think it’s fair to say that— during the course of my presidency— I have bent over backwards to work with— the Republican party. And have purposely kept my rhetoric down. I think I’m pretty well known for being a calm guy. Sometimes people think I’m too calm. And am I exasperated? Absolutely I’m exasperated. Because this is entirely unnecessary.
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