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White House

Obama Defends Economic Policies, Need for Tax Increases In 'Today' Interview

In an interview shown on NBC's Today show Tuesday, President Obama rehashed some of his recent policies for job creation but offered no new insights about his economic plans for the year.

Co-host Ann Curry spoke to Obama after he visited Durham, N.C., on Monday to meet with his Jobs and Competitiveness Council about how to boost short-term job growth and spoke to workers in a manufacturing plant. Asked why businesses were so slow to hire new workers while spending much more on equipment, Obama spoke of structural changes in the economy caused by technology -- ATMs instead of bank tellers, airport kiosks instead of ticketing agents -- that have made businesses function with fewer employees.

 

“What we have to do now, what this Jobs Council is all about, is identifying where the jobs of the future are going to be. How do we make sure there's a match between what people are getting trained for and the jobs that exist, how do we make sure that capital is flowing into those places with the greatest opportunity? We are on the right track. The key is figuring out how do we accelerate it,” Obama said.

He announced an initiative last week to create a national credentialing system for students training to work in the manufacturing sector, one of only a few measures in recent months specifically aimed at sparking hiring.

But Obama insisted that he’s not callous to the plight of the unemployed and is focusing on the problem. “When I see them at meetings and they start crying, the notion somehow that I'm calm about that is nonsense. But what is true is that, as president, my job is to make sure that I am finding every good idea that we can to move the country forward.”

 

He also denied that working on passage of the Affordable Care Act in the first year and a half of his presidency was a distraction from focusing on economic problems. On the contrary, Obama said, he believed that working to reduce health care costs for companies would increase their ability to hire more workers.

On the upcoming budget and debt-ceiling fights, it’s clear the president isn’t dropping his push for revenue increases as a way to bring down the deficit so that programs like Medicare and government functions like food safety and weather satellites are still being funded. Despite the insistence of most Republicans that they will not consider raising taxes to pay for rising deficits and are demanding deep spending cuts accompany an increase in the debt ceiling, Obama still expressed confidence that the two sides could reach a deal through bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joe Biden.

“I take the Republican leadership at their word when when they say it would be disastrous for us to not increase the debt limit,” he said. “I do not want to see the United States default on our obligations.”

The other political angle Curry explored was the president’s reaction to the scandal surrounding embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. On Monday night, NBC aired portions of the interview in which Obama called Weiner’s behavior “highly inappropriate” and said that if he were the congressman, he would resign.

 

Curry got a rare glimpse into the private life of the first family when she asked about how they reacted to the president's decision to run for a second term. Obama says that, while he's proud of his accomplishments so far, he sees a lot of work to be done, especially on an energy plan and education reform. And his family is along for the ride.

"They're not invested in daddy being president or my husband being president," Obama said of his daughters, Sasha and Malia, and his wife, Michelle. "But they do believe in what we're doing. And Michelle, if she didn't think that what we were doing was worthwhile in moving the country forward, I think she would be the first one to say, 'Why don't you go do something else that is a little less stressful.'"

And despite the pressures of growing up in the national spotlight, Obama said his daughters continue to surprise him with their poise and good manners.

The bottom line for the first father: “If the family is doing well, if Michelle is still putting up with me, then I've got enough energy to keep on doing the work that I'm doing.”

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