On Friday, December 9, 2011, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed President Barack Obama in the Cabinet Room of the White House. The President discussed both his ‘accomplishments’ and the challenges he faces as he begins his quest for reelection. Below is the video and a transcript of that interview
STEVE KROFT: The speech on Tuesday in Kansas sounded very much like a campaign speech. What were you trying to get across?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Our economy is in a transition of the sort that America’s gone through maybe every 70-75 years. We went from an agriculture economy to an information, to an industrial economy during Teddy Roosevelt’s period. We’ve now gone from an industrial to a knowledge-based, innovation society. And, you know, there are a lot of disruptions.
And the middle class in America has really taken it on the chin, during this period. They haven’t seen their wages go up, they haven’t seen their incomes go up. You know, women went into the workforce to try to keep family incomes up. But then that wasn’t enough; they ended up getting into debt. And they’re not seeing enough prospects for a future where their kids are gonna do better than they are.
Now the good news is, we can solve these problems and meet these challenges, because America, by definition, is an innovation society. We constantly remake ourselves. So there’s no reason why we should not succeed in this era, just like we’ve succeeded in past eras. But it requires us to make some adjustments. And it requires everybody to have a fair chance, everybody to do their fair share, and rules of the road that create fair play for everybody.
And what people have been frustrated about, especially since the financial crisis, is the sense that the rules are rigged against middle-class families and those aspiring to get in the middle class. So, if we’re willing to make investments in education so that everybody gets a fair chance and kids aren’t coming out with $100,000 worth of debt to go to college.
If we make sure that everybody’s doing their fair share, to pay for things like infrastructure improvements in basic science and research and advanced manufacturing and innovation, we ask those who’ve benefited the most over the last three decades, we ask them to do a little bit more. And if we’ve got tough rules of the road — like the financial reform package that we passed into law last year — there’s no reason why over the next five, ten years, we cannot reposition ourselves so that every single American, no matter what they look like, no matter where they come from, they can succeed. And that’s my goal as President. That’s what I think about every day. And that’s what led me to run for president in the first place.
KROFT: Since the midterm elections, you’ve made an effort at bipartisanship. It hasn’t worked out that way. In Kansas, you didn’t mention it. And it seems to me, it appears, watching you the last month or so, that you have stopped reaching out to Republicans. That you’re going on the offensive… and taking your message to the voters.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think that when I came into office in 2008, it was my firm belief that at such an important moment in our history, there was no reason why Democrats and Republicans couldn’t put some of the old ideological baggage aside and focus on common sense, what works, practical solutions to the tough problems we were facing. And I think the Republicans made a different calculation, which was, “You know what? We really screwed up the economy. Obama seems popular. Our best bet is to stand on the sidelines, because we think the economy’s gonna get worse, and at some point, just blame him.”
And so we haven’t gotten the kind of engagement from them that I would have liked. And the best example of this was when we were negotiating around reducing the deficit. The truth is that, compared to other countries around the world, our deficit problems are completely manageable. If we had a balanced package that reforms some of our health care programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, that cuts discretionary spending, which I’ve already agreed to do – and we’ve cut a trillion dollars’ worth of spending so far, and I’m willing to do more. And I’ve put forward specific plans to do more.
And we ended up asking the wealthiest Americans to do a little bit more in terms of taxes. Going back to rates that would still be lower than they were under Ronald Reagan, our deficit problems would be solved. And I could not get Republicans to go ahead and say, “You’re right. We’re gonna put country ahead of party.”
Now what I’ve said to them is, “That deal remains on the table. My offer to cooperate on a whole range of issues remains on the table. But I can’t wait, because the American people can’t wait. They need help right now. ” And so what we’ve done, since this debt ceiling debacle, is to look at every single thing I can do through executive actions to go ahead and help provide some relief to middle-class families. So helping families to take advantage of low interest rates to refinance their homes, putting [a] couple extra thousand dollars in their pockets, helping students so that their debt burden when they come out of school is lower.
We’re just gonna keep on looking for specific things that we can do without Congressional cooperation. But Steve, I would love nothing more than to have the Republicans say, “We’re gonna be focused on trying to solve problems and not score political points.” And the best example is the debate we’re having right now around the payroll tax cut extension. This is a deal that we cut last year that every economist says we need to help sustain the recovery.
And traditionally, Republicans have tried to claim the mantle of being in favor of every tax cut. They never want to raise taxes. And yet, we have the prospect in 20-some days that 160 million Americans will see their taxes go up by an average of a thousand bucks. And yet, it’s become a negotiation, where they think that in order for us to do something that’s common sense and needed for our economy, that somehow they’re doing me a favor. This isn’t something you do for me.
We even had a Republican quoted in the newspapers yesterday, saying that “If we load up a whole bunch of additional stuff that Obama doesn’t like, then maybe we’d pass the payroll tax — and the more Obama doesn’t like it, the more I like it.” That attitude just drives people crazy.
KROFT: But have you stopped reaching out? Have you given up on the Republicans? Have you stopped reaching out to them? Are you just out there now trying to get your message across?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Every opportunity that I see for us to be able to actually get something done, I will seize. So we passed three trade agreements that the Republicans agreed to. And I lined up my party behind it, even though it wasn’t popular in certain segments of