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Obama’s Off-the-Record Interview

For those of you who missed it last week, I recommend reading the interview that the President gave to the Des Moines Register, seeking their endorsement (ill-fatedly).  Obama thought the interview was off-the-record, and apparently felt a little freer to reveal his political analysis of what a second term would have in store.  The paper then forced him to publish it, much to our benefit.

My favorite part of the interview was a question that I wish had been a central part of the campaign.  It was the second most important point in my list of why this election matters.

Q: “Sir, if you were granted a second term, how do you implode this partisan gridlock that has gripped Washington and Congress and basically our entire political structure right now?”  Obama replied:

Well, Rick, let me answer you short term and long term. In the short term, the good news is that there’s going to be a forcing mechanism to deal with what is the central ideological argument in Washington right now, and that is: How much government do we have and how do we pay for it?

So when you combine the Bush tax cuts expiring, the sequester in place, the commitment of both myself and my opponent — at least Governor Romney claims that he wants to reduce the deficit — but we’re going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business.

It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.

And we can easily meet — “easily” is the wrong word — we can credibly meet the target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and even more in the out-years, and we can stabilize our deficit-to-GDP ratio in a way that is really going to be a good foundation for long-term growth. Now, once we get that done, that takes a huge piece of business off the table.

The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I’ve cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.

So assume that you get those two things done in the first year, and we’re implementing Wall Street reform, Obamacare turns out not to have been the scary monster that the other side has painted. Now we’re in a position where we can start on some things that really historically have not been ideological. We can start looking at a serious corporate tax reform agenda that’s revenue-neutral but lowers rates and broadens the base — something that both Republicans and Democrats have expressed an interest in.

I’ve expressed a deep desire and taken executive action to weed out regulations that aren’t contributing to the health and public safety of our people. And we’ve made a commitment to look back and see if there are regulations out there that aren’t working, then let’s get rid of them and see if we can clear out some of the underbrush on that. Again, that’s something that should be non-ideological.

My hope is, is that there’s a recognition that now is a great time to make infrastructure improvements all across the country. And we can pull up some of the money that we know we’re going to be spending over the next decade to put people back to work right now at a time when contractors are dying for work and interest rates are really low.

And, again, that’s something that even John Boehner — John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, they’ve got a bridge linking Cincinnati and Kentucky, and the bridge is so broken down that folks are having to drive an hour and a half of extra commuting just to get across the Ohio River. There’s no reason why we can’t work on things like that and put people back to work.

So I just want to contrast with what happens if Mitt Romney is elected. I know that he likes to talk about his Massachusetts record. The truth is there really were two Mitt Romneys. There was the Mitt Romney who initially got elected, passed Obamacare, and was interested in being the governor of Massachusetts. After his second year, it was the Mitt Romney who was running for president and abandoned all his previous positions.

And the problem you’ve seen in this campaign is he’s made commitments — his first day he’s got to introduce a bill to repeal Obamacare. And that’s a commitment he cannot back off of. That is a huge, messy fight. His first day in office, he has to make some commitments in rolling back things like the Consumer Finance Protection Board we put in place on Wall Street reform. His budget — the Ryan budget — there’s no way that, if he’s president, he can avoid having a showdown on a budget that his running mate introduced, or a variation of it, because he’s committed to cutting spending by 20 percent across the board on discretionary and increasing defense spending by $2 trillion.

I appreciate with the President’s analysis, and it’s refreshing to hear him lay it out.  But he did not address what I think is the most important point: the obstruction that Republicans have embraced was not in reaction to the President’s policies.  It was just to make him look bad so that they could oust him from office.  But if Obama wins reelection, the predicate of their strategy will have been proven false.  That’s not to say there will be no more obstruction, but it does remove the single biggest obstacle.

Read the rest to hear Obama’s answers to these other questions:

  • How will the economy grow faster during your second term than the first?
  • Do you wish you could have gotten more done during your first two years?
  • What do you say to the people who say that it doesn’t matter who wins the election?

Photo Credit: President Barack Obama reads briefing material while meeting with advisors inside his cabin at Camp David, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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