President Obama gave this interview with the Des Moines Register; it was released on October 24, 2012.
[Editor's Note: Click here for more CFR 2012 campaign resources, which examine the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential race.]
Interview of the President by Rick Green & Laura Hollingsworth, The Des Moines Register
Q: Good morning, Mr. President -- Laura Hollingsworth, with the Des Moines Register.
THE PRESIDENT: Hi, how are you?
Q: Very well. We haven't spoken in four years. We're excited to be able to talk with you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm so glad to talk to you. And I understand Rick is joining us as well.
Q: Rick Green is right next to me, our editor, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Great.
Q: Good morning, Mr. President. How are you sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm doing great and looking forward to being back in Iowa.
Q: Good, see you later this week.
Q: You've been here a lot. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It's home away from home.
But I know that our time is limited and you guys have a lot of questions. I thought maybe it would be useful for me to just summarize how I see a second term very quickly, and then you guys can pepper me with questions. Does that sound okay?
Q: Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Obviously, I'm very proud of what we've accomplished over the last four years. A lot of it was responding to the most severe economic emergency we've had since the Great Depression. And whether it was saving the auto industry, stabilizing the financial system, making sure that we got into a growth mode again and started putting people back to work, we have made real progress.
But people are obviously still hurting in a lot of parts of the country. And that's why last night I tried to reiterate a very specific plan that we've put forward to make sure that the economy is growing, we're bringing down our deficit, and we're creating jobs.
So, number one, I'm very interested in continuing to build on the work that we did not just in the auto industry but some of the other industrial sectors, bringing manufacturing back to our shores; changing our tax code to reward companies that are investing here. There is a real sense that companies are starting to make decisions about insourcing, and some modest incentives I think can make a real difference in terms of us seeing continued manufacturing growth, which obviously has huge ramifications throughout the economy, including in the service sector of the economy.
Number two, education, which has obviously been a priority for us over the last four years -- I want to build on what we've done with Race to the Top, but really focus on STEM education -- math, science, technology, computer science. And part of that is helping states to hire teachers with the highest standards and training in these subjects so we can start making sure that our kids are catching up to some of the other industrialized world.
Two million more slots in community colleges that allows our workers to retrain, but also young people who may not want to go to a four-year college, making sure that the training they're receiving is actually for jobs that are out there right now. And we want to continue to work -- building on the progress we've done over the last four years -- to keep tuition low for those who do attend either a two-year or a four-year college.
Number three, controlling our own energy. This obviously is of interest to Iowa. Our support of biofuels, our support of wind energy has created thousands of jobs in Iowa. But even more importantly, this is going to be the race to the future. The country that controls new sources of energy, not just the traditional sources, is going to have a huge competitive advantage 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now.
So in addition to doubling our fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks, what we want to do is make sure that we're producing new technologies here -- long-lasting batteries, making sure that we are developing the wind and solar and other energy sources that may provide us a breakthrough. In the meantime, we're still producing oil and natural gas at a record pace, but we've got to start preparing for the future. And as I said, it creates jobs right now in Iowa.
Number four, I want to reduce our deficit. It's got to be done in a balanced way. I've already cut a trillion dollars' worth of spending. I'm willing to do more. I'm willing to cut more, and I'm willing to work with Democrats and Republicans when it comes to making some adjustments that bring down the cost of our health care programs, which obviously are the biggest drivers of our deficit.
But nobody who looks at the numbers thinks it's realistic for us to actually reduce our deficit in a serious way without also having some revenue. And we've identified tax rates going up to the Clinton rates for income above $250,000; making some adjustments in terms of the corporate tax side that could actually bring down the corporate tax overall, but broaden the base and close some loopholes. That would be good for our economy, and it would be good for reducing our deficit.
And finally, using some of the war savings to put people back to work on infrastructure -- roads, bridges. We've fallen behind in that area. And we can -- this deferred maintenance, we can put people to work, back, right now, and at the same time make sure that our economy is more competitive over the long term.
So that's sort of a summary of the things I want to accomplish to create jobs and economic growth. Obviously, there are other items on the agenda. We need to get immigration reform done, and I'm fully committed to doing that. I think there's still more work on the energy efficiency side that we can do -- helping to retrofit our buildings, schools, hospitals, so that they're energy efficient -- because if we achieved efficiencies at the level of, let's say, Japan, we could actually cut our power bill by about 20-25 percent, and that would have the added benefit of taking a whole bunch of carbon out of the atmosphere.
So there are some things that we can do, but obviously the key focus is making sure that the economy is growing. That will facilitate all the other work that we do.
Q: Very good, Mr. President. First question for you -- obviously, we all know that restoring the national economy is the number-one issue among voters. And here in Iowa, obviously, we struggle with the same thing. I'll tell you that our editorial board is struggling with that same thing. What will -- and many believe that we've only engineered a recovery based on more spending, delaying sort of the inevitable, and that even looking at growth projections for next year, very weak based on current trend lines. So why will your plan for a second term yield better results than what we saw in the first four years of the administration? And how are we going to grow at a faster pace?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind that some of this is us just working through a very, very deep worldwide financial-based recession. And you guys are probably familiar with some of the work that's been done on this. Recessions that follow a financial crash of some sort, including the popping of the housing bubble, are not regular recessions. They're not your typical business cycle recession. And so, in many ways, because of the actions we took early on, we're actually ahead of pace in the typical recovery out of a recession like this.
But the potential for upside growth remains very strong. Keep in mind that we are growing faster than just about any other large industrialized country. We're growing faster than Europe. We're growing faster than Japan. And part of the challenge we have right now -- we've had a bunch of headwinds because Europe is still getting its act together. China, its economy has been weakened. And so world trade generally has been somewhat depressed over the last year.
But despite that, we've doubled our exports. And if you combine a prudent deficit plan, a serious emphasis on our manufacturing strengths, retraining our workers, a very real energy boom both in natural gas but also in clean energy, and the infrastructure that traditionally has not been a partisan issue -- we've got a lot of deferred maintenance that needs to be done -- even as the housing market is starting finally to recover -- you combine those things, and there's no reason why we can't have a significant surge of growth.
Conversely, if we adopted my opponent's plans for a $5 trillion tax cut that he claims would somehow be paid for by deductions and -- closing of deductions and loopholes that nobody can identify how to pay for, either we're blowing up that deficit, or what's going to end up happening is you end up seeing middle-class families taxed. That's the absolute worst thing that could be done for the economy right now.
So I'm actually optimistic that if you combine the elements of my plan together, we can grow faster and create the kind of virtuous cycle that allows businesses to start investing and hiring a lot more aggressively. Keep in mind, over the first -- or let's say, over the previous two and a half years, corporate profits had been at record levels. Companies are awash with cash. And what they've been missing are enough customers out there to prompt demand and justify them investing in more plant equipment and workers. So if we can just trigger that, there's enough capital out there in order for us to get on that virtuous cycle.
Q: Great. Mr. President, we know that John Boehner and the House Republicans have not been easy to work with, and certainly you've had some obstacles in the Senate, even though it's been controlled by the Democrats. At the time, whenever -- we talked a lot about, in 2008, hope and change. I'm curious about what you see your role is in terms of changing the tone and the perception that Washington is broken. But particularly, 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?
THE PRESIDENT: 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.
Q: Yes, that begs a question from us, Mr. President. Some say you had a super majority in your first two years and had this incredible opportunity, but because of what you were talking about, as you were running, you had to go to get Obamacare done. Do you have any regrets taking on some of the economic issues, some of the issues that we're talking about for your second term, that when you had the chance, so to speak, during your first -- do you have any regrets that you didn't do that at that time?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely not, Laura. Remember the context. First of all, Mitch McConnell has imposed an ironclad filibuster from the first day I was in office. And that's not speculation. I mean, this is -- it's amply recorded. He gave a speech saying, my task is to defeat the President.
So we were able to pass emergency action with the stimulus, but we had to get two votes from Republicans. One of them essentially was driven out of the party -- Arlen Specter, who recently passed away. We then -- because Al Franken hadn't been seated, didn't have 60 votes until essentially -- there was a four- or five-month span. But at that point, we had already put in place the Recovery Act. We had already moved forward to help states avoid teacher layoffs and so forth.
And we were already in the process of stabilizing the banks. We had already engineered the process that would save the auto industry. And there was not going to be any appetite among Democrats or Republicans to take additional actions until we saw the progress that was making -- that needed to be made.
And our health care system is one-sixth of our economy. And if we have a situation where spending on health care at every level is going up at 6, 7, 10 percent a year, and we've got millions of people without coverage or inadequate coverage, the suggestion that that's not a central economic priority for the country is just something that I wouldn't buy.
And the suggestion somehow that if we hadn't pursued Obamacare, somehow we would have gotten additional stimulus out of the Republicans, for example, that we could have primed the pump more, that's just not borne out by any of the evidence.
In fact, the first stimulus, when we were contracting at 8 percent a quarter, as I was on my way up -- a month after I'd been elected, or two months after I'd been elected -- as I was on my way up to meet the House Republicans to share with them my ideas about how we should pass this Recovery Act, they already said they'd vote against it.
Now, it was a political strategy that won them back the House, but it wasn't good for the country. And I think the country recognizes that. So what I want to do -- now we're in a different position, and I genuinely believe that one of the best things we can do for the economy is to settle this issue of government spending, entitlements, and revenues so that we can provide the kind of certainty that I think businesses and individuals are looking for.
Q: One question -- as you watch voters here and just everyday interactions with people that are so undecided, so fearful of either choice -- I found people becoming even more ambivalent and even voters making statements such as it really doesn't matter who's President anyway because of the problems in Congress and really that's what's going on -- what would you say to a statement that somebody was saying, it doesn't really matter who should be President?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what I'd say is that it will matter to millions of Americans who may or may not have health care. It will matter to millions of seniors who maybe -- or soon-to-be seniors who may be faced with the prospect of a voucher system for Medicare.
It will matter to young people all across the country who were born here, pledged allegiance to our flag, went to school here, and are Americans in every way except they don't have documentation and would continue to be at risk of deportation.
It will matter to middle-class families who are going to find themselves locked out of the discussion in terms of how we balance our budget, or at least reduce our deficit, facing the prospect that things like the tax credit we put in place for kids going to college, the earned income tax credit, a whole bunch of things that make sure working people stay out of poverty -- that could all go away.
The consequences on just about every indicator out there would be enormous. And so if the question is, will the economy drastically improve, are we going to get back to -- are we going to get to 4 or 5 percent growth if I'm reelected versus Mitt Romney -- there are some big global economic issues that are being worked through.
But the question I think for voters, in addition to what's going to be good for me and my family tomorrow, is, what's going to be good for America five years from now or 10 years from now. And if we have not built an education system that works and makes sure that college is affordable, if we have not won the race for future energy technologies, if we're slashing funding for things like basic research, if we are not rebuilding our infrastructure, then 5, 10 years from now we are going to be a weaker nation. And that has huge consequences.
Now, obviously, if somebody believes that the government has been the problem and will remain the problem, and if we just strip down government to defense spending and Social Security and some watered-down version of Medicare and Medicaid, and we shouldn't be doing anything else, then obviously Mitt Romney is the candidate. There's no indication, based on either historical evidence or what's happening around the world, that that's the recipe for long-term sustainable economic growth.
Q: Mr. President, we're very sensitive to your time. I know you've got a busy schedule. But we just had just one last question here. As we close in on the final hours of this campaign -- it's been a long one. It's been exhausting. It's been very, very expensive, as I know you know. Why should the Des Moines Register offer its endorsement to you, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you guys have seen me up close. I wouldn't be on the national stage had it not been for the people of Iowa. And if you look at what I said to you this time four years ago, and the commitments I've made, I have kept and met those commitments, or I have worked really hard to keep them and meet them.
I said that I'd cut taxes for middle-class families -- I did. I said that we would make sure to make college more affordable -- we have. I said I would clean up the financial system and pass the toughest Wall Street reforms since the 1930s, and we have. I said that I would make sure that people don't go broke in this country because they get sick -- we did that. I said I'd end the war in Iraq -- I have. I said we'd got after al Qaeda and bin Laden -- we have. I said we'd begin a process where we could initially blunt the momentum of the Taliban and then a process in which we'd begin transitioning out -- we're in the process of doing that.
So across the board, I've done what I said. And this is in the midst of I think what everybody would agree were some pretty historic circumstances. And the criteria by which I've made these decisions has always been what's good for America's families, how do we build our middle class, how do we grow the economy in a way that broad-based and sustainable.
The notion that somehow we've been bad for business is obviously contradicted by the evidence. Corporate profits have been at record levels up until maybe last quarter. The stock market basically has recovered all its losses that it experienced from the financial sector. The auto industry has come roaring back. Our exports have doubled.
For the people of Iowa that are so dependent on the agricultural sector -- the agricultural sector has never done better than it has under my administration. Even in the midst of this year's drought it's still doing well.
When it comes to clean energy that I talked about so much back in 2007-2008, we've doubled our production of clean energy. And we're starting to see the costs of that energy come down, the number of jobs it generates go up.
I got to tell you, I feel very strongly that I have a record that justifies a second term. But I guess, more importantly, what you also know is that I'm somebody who keeps my word, that I don't read the polls, that I do what I think is right for the American people, even when it is profoundly unpopular politically. And I think that's worth something. I think that's the kind of leadership the people of Iowa want.
Q: Very good.
Q: Thank you so much, Mr. President, for your time.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, guys. I appreciate you taking the time. I want your endorsement.
Q: Thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: You'll feel better when you give it. (Laughter.) All right? Bye-bye.
Q: Appreciate it.
Q: Best of luck, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Bye-bye.