Below is from my FNC colleague Kimberly Schwandt. It is the transcript from a MTP interview with President Obama:
(09:00:27) David Gregory: Yesterday afternoon in an exclusive interview, President Obama sat down with me in the blue room of the White House to discuss the way forward and his priorities for his second term.
(09:00:37) David Gregory: Mr. President, welcome back to Meet the Press.
(09:00:40) Obama: It’s great to be here, thank you.
(09:00:41) David Gregory: So the obvious question, are we going over the fiscal cliff?
(09:00:43) Obama: Well, I think w e’re going to find out in the next 48 hours what Congress decides to do. But I think it’s important for the American people to understand what exactly this fiscal cliff is. Cause, it’s actually not that complicated.
(09:00:56) Obama: The tax cuts that were introduced in 2001, 2003 and 2010- those were extended and they are all about to expire at the end of the year, so on midnight December 31st, if Congress doesn’t act, then everybody’s taxes go up and for the average family, that could mean $2,000 loss in income.
(09:01:20) Obama: For the entire economy,t hat means consumers have a lot less money to make purchases which means businesses have a lot less customers, which means that they less likely to hire which means the whole economy could slow down at a time when the economy is actually starting to pick up and we’re seeing signs of recovery and housing, uh, employment numbers improving.
(09:01:40) Obama: And so what congress needs to do, first and foremost, is to prevent taxes from going up for the vast majority of Americans and this was a major topic of discussion throughout the campaign. What I said was that we should keep taxes where they areâ€¦
(09:01:56) Obama: for 98% of Americans, 97% of small businesses but if we’re serious about deficit reduction, we should make sure that the wealthy are paying a little bit more and combine that with spending cuts to reduce our deficit and put our economy on a long term trajectory of growth.
(09:02:14) Obama: We have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over. They have had trouble to saying yes to a number of repeated offers. Yesterday I had another meeting with the leadership and I suggested to them that if they can’t do a comprehensive package of smart deficit reduction, let’s at minimum makes ure that peoples taxes don’t go up and that 2 million people don’t lose their unemployment insurance. And I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don’t yet see an agreement and now the pressure is on Congress to produce. If they don’t, what I’ve said is that in the senate, we should go ahead and introduce legislation that will make sure that middle-class taxes stay where they areâ€¦
(09:02:58) Obama: And there should be an up or down vote. Everybody should have a right to vote on that. You know, if Republicans don’t like it, they can vote no. But I actually think that there’s majority support for making sure that middle class families are held up.
(09:03:10) David Gregory: If you go over the cliff, what’s the impact on the markets which have been pretty confident up until now that it would get done.
(09:03:18) Obama: Well, you know, it’s hard to speculate on the markets but obviously I think business and investors are going to feel more negative about the economy next year. If you look at projections in 2013, people generally felt that the economy would continue to grow, that unemployment would continue to take down, housing would continue to improve
(09:03:37) Obama: But what’s been holding us back is the dysfunction here in Washington. And if you know, people start seeing that on January 1st, this problem still hasn’t been solved. That we haven’t seen the kind of deficit reduction that we could have had if the republicans had been willing to take the deal that I gave them. If they say that people’s taxes have gone up, which means that consumer spending is going to be depressed, then obviously that’s going to have an adverse reaction in the markets.
(09:04:06) David Gregory: What about the automatic spending cuts? Those take place January 1st as well, do they have to be a part of this deal? You got half of those cuts in defense alone?
(09:04:17) Obama: Well the other part of the fiscal cliff is that congress agreed that they would cut an additional 1.2 trillion dollars in spending. They put a committee together to try to come up with those numbers.
(09:04:30) Obama: They didn’t figure out how to do it. So what we now have is a situation where these automatic spending cuts go into place. Now, if we have raised some revenue by the wealthy paying a little bit more, that would be sufficient to turn off this request or what’s called these automatic spending cuts
(09:04:49) Obama: And that also would have a better outcome for our economy long-term. But you know, so far at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done. Not because democrats in congress don’t’ want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it’s been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes ont eh wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit as part of an overall deficit reduction package
(09:05:15) David Gregory: When you talk about dysfunction in Washington, you signed in this legislation setting up this fiscal cliff 17 months ago. How accountable are you for the fact that Washington can’t get anything done and we’re at this deadline again?
(09:05:26) Obama: Well, I have to tell you David, if you look at my track record over the past two years, I cut spending by over a trillion dollars in 2011. I campaigned ont eh promise of being willing to reduce the deficit in a serious way – in a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy by keeping the middle class taxes low. I put forward a very specific proposal to do that.
(09:05:54) Obama: I negotiated with Speaker Boehner in good faith and moved more than half way in order to achieve a grand bargain. I offered over a trillion dollars in additional spending cuts so that we would have two dollars of spending cuts for every one dollar of increased revenue.
(09:06:14) Obama: I think anybody objectively who’s looked at this would say that you know, we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the American people including close to half of Republicans.
David Gregory: But when they say that leadership falls on you , Mr. President, you don’t have a role here in breaking this impasse? You’ve had a tough go with congress.
(09:06:36) Obama: David, you know, at a certain point, if folks can’t say yes to good offers then I also have an obligation to American people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn’t fall on the seniors who are relying on medicare, I also have an obligation to make sure that families that rely on Medicaid to take care of a disabled child aren’t carrying this burden entirely.
(09:06:59) Obama: I also have an obligation to middle class families to make sure that they’re not paying higher taxes when millionaires and billionaires are not having to pay higher taxes. There is a basic fairness that is at stake in this whole thing and the American people understand and they listened to an entire year’s debate about it. They made a clear decision about the approach they prefer which is a balanced, responsible package, they rejected the notion that the economy grows best from the top down..
(09:07:32) Obama: They believe that the economy grows best from the middle class out. And at a certain point, it is very important for republicans in congress to be willing to say that we understand that we’re not going to get 100%. We are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems opposed to worrying about the next election.
(09:07:54) David Gregory: You said that republicans have a hard time to saying yes, particularly to you. What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think is so hard to say yes to?
(09:08:01) Obama: You know, that’s something that you’re probably going to have to ask them. Because you know, David, you follow this stuff pretty carefully. The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at it.
(09:08:19) Obama: I mean I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit. I offered not only a trillion dollars- over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over th next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years.
(09:08:41) Obama: And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is dealing with the deficit in a serious way but the way they are behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be the only overriding, unifying theme and at some pointâ€¦
(09:09:02) Obama: I think what’s going to be important is that they listen to the American people. Now, I think that over the next 48 hours, my hope is that people recognize that regardless of partisan differences, our top priority has to be to make sure that taxes on middle class families do not go up that would hurt our economy badly.
(09:09:28) Obama: We can get that done. Democrats and Republicans both say that they don’t want taxes to go up on middle class families – that’s something that we all agree on. If we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff. It avoids the worst outcomes and we’re then going to have some tough negotiations in terms of how we continue to reduce the deficit, grow the economy —-
(09:09:53) David Gregory: If this fight comes back and I want to ask you specifically about entitlements, medicare and social security. Are you prepared in the first year of your second term to significantly reform those two programs, to go beyond the cuts you suggested in the benefits of medicare – that your own debt commission suggested that you’d have to do if you were really going to shore up medicare at least. Are you prepared to do that in your first year of your second term?
(09:10:16) Obama: What I’ve said is I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that medicare and social security are there, not just for this generation, but for future generations.
David Gregory: You have to talk tough to seniors about this, don’t you —
Obama: But I already have, David, as you know, one of the proposals we made was something called Chained CPI which sounds real technical but basically makes an adjustment based on how inflation is calculated on social security.
(09:10:39) Obama: Highly unpopular among Democrats, not something supported by AARP but in pursuit of strengthening social security for the long term I’m willing to make those decisions. What I’m not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research to help our economy grow. Those are the things that I’m not willing to do.
(09:11:11) Obama: And so—
(09:11:12) David Gregory: Would you commit to that for your first year of second term? Getting significant reform done, telling congress we gotta do it in the first year?
(09:11:17) Obama: David I want to be very clear. You are not only going to cut your way to prosperity. One of the fallacies that has been promoted is this notion is that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth. That has to be part of the mix. But what I ran on and what the American people elected me to do is to put forward a balanced approach to make sure there’s shared sacrifice.
(09:11:50) Obama: That everybody is doing a little bit more. And it is very difficult for me to say to a senior citizen or a student or a mom with a disabled kid, you are going to have to do with less but we’re not going to ask millionaires and billionaires to do more.
(09:12:08) David Gregory : That’s not —
Obama: That’s not something- that’s not an approach that the American people think is right and by the way historically that’s not how we grow an economy. We grow an economy when folks in the middle, folks that are striving to get in the middle class, when they do well.
(09:12:23) David Gregory: But I’m asking about time frame because as you well know as a second term president now, about to begin your second term, your political capital even having just won a re-election, is limited. So what is your single priority of the second term? What is the equivalent to healthcare?
(09:12:40) Obama: Well there are a couple of things we need to get done. I’ve said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done.
(09:12:48) I think we’ve talked about it long enough, we know how we can fix it, we can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That’s something that we should get done.
(09:12:57) Obama: The second thing that we’ve got to do is stabilize the economy and make sure it’s growing. Part of that is deficit reduction. Part of that is also making sure that we’re investing for example, in rebuilding our infrastructure.
(09:13:09) Obama: Which is broken. And you know, if we are putting people back to work, rebuilding our roads, our bridges our schools, in part paid for by some of these broader long term deficit reduction measures that need to take place, that will grow our economy at the same time as we’re also setting our path for long term fiscal stability.
(09:13:34) Obama: Number three, we’ve got a huge opportunity around energy. We are producing more energy and America can become an energy exporter. How do we do that in a way that also deals with the environmental challenges that we also have at the same time. So that’s going to be a third thing. But the most immediate thing that I’ve got to do starting on January 1st, if Congress doesn’t act before the end of the year, is to make sure that taxes are not going up on middle class families.
(09:13:59) Obama: And because it is going to be very hard for the economy to sustain its current growth trends if suddenly we have a huge bite taken of the average american’s paycheck.
(09:14:11) David Gregory: Those are 4 huge things and you didn’t mention after newtown, although I know you’re thinking about it, is new gun regulations.
David Gregory: Mayor Bloomberg of New York told me a couple of weeks ago on this program that that ought be your number one agenda. You know how hard this is. Do you have the stomach for the political fight for new gun control laws?
(09:14:28) Obama: You know, uh, I think anybody who was up in Newtown who talked to the parents, who talked to the families, understands that something fundamental in America has to change.
(09:14:41) Obama; And all of us have to do some soul searching, including me, as president. That we allow a situation in which 20 precious small children are getting gunned down in a classroom. And I’ve been very clear that you know, an assault rifle ban, banning these high-capacity clips, background checks, there are a set of issues that I’ve historically supported and will continue to support.
David Gregory: But can you get it done? The politics is the question.
(09:15:21) Obama: So the question is, are we going to be able to have a national conversation and move something through congress. I would like to get it done in the first year, I would put forward a very specific proposal based on the recommendations that Joe Biden’s task force are putting together as we speak. And so this is not something that I will be putting off -
(09:15:42) David Gregory: The NRA says it is just not going to work. It didn’t work before, it’s not going to work now.
(09:15:47) Obama: My response is something has to work. And you know, it is not enough for us to say this is too hard so we’re not going to try. So what I intend to do is call all the stakeholders together, I will meet with Republicans, I will meet with Democrats, I will talk to anybody.
(09:16:05) Obama: I think there is a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there, who recognize that we can’t have a situation in which somebody with you know, severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high capacity weapons that this individual in Newtown obtained.
(09:16:26) Obama: And gun down our kids. And yes, it’s going to be hard.
(09:16:31) David Gregory: We should have an armed guard at every school in the country? That’s what the NRA believes. They told me last week. That could work.
(09:16:36) Obama: You know I’m not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me. I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of American people are skeptical that somehow that’s going to solve our problem.
(09:16:52) Obama: And look, here’s the bottom line, we’re not going to get this done unless the American people decide it’s important. And so this is not going to be a matter of me spending political capital. So some of the things you learn now having been in this office for four years is you know, the old adage of Abraham Lincoln is that with public opinion there is nothing that you can’t do and without public opinion there is very little you can get done in this town.
(09:17:23) Obama: So I’m going to be putting forward a package and I’m going to put my full weight behind it and I’m going to be making an argument to the American people about why this is important and why we have to do everything we can to make sure that something like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary does not happen again.
(09:17:40) Obama: But ultimately the way this is going to happen is because the American people say, that’s right. We are willing to make different choices for the country and we support those in congress that are willing to take those actions. And will there be resistance? Absolutely, there will be resistance. Then the question then becomes you know, whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here.
(09:18:05) Obama: That it does not just become just another one of these routine episodes. Where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away. It certainly won’t feel like that to me. This is something that you know, that was the worst day of my presidency.
(09:18:23) Obama: And it’s not something that I want to see repeated.
(09:18:26) David Gregory: It hit close to home.
(09:18:26) David Gregory: Let me ask you about a couple of foreign policy notes. After the attack in Benghazi, is there a need for more accountability so that this doesn’t happen again and do you know who is behind the attack at this point?
(09:18:38) Obama: Uh, two points. Number one I think that Tom Pickering and Mike Mullen who headed up the review board did a very thorough job in identifying what were some severe problems in diplomatic security.
(09:18:56) And they provided us with a series of recommendations. Many of them were starting to be implemented. Secretary Clinton has implicated that she is going to implement all of them. My message to the state department has been very simple. We’re going to solve this, we’re not going to be defensive about it, we’re not going to pretend that this wasn’t a problem, this was a huge problem.
(09:19:21) Obama: And we’re going to implement every single recommendation that’s been put forward. Some individuals have been held accountable inside of the state department. And what I’ve said is that we’re going to fix this to make sure that this does not happen again. Because these are folks that I send into the field, we understand that there are dangers involved but you know, when you read the report and it confirms what we’ve already seen based on some of our internal reviews,
(09:19:50) Obama: There was just some sloppiness – not intentional – in terms of how we secure embassies in areas where you essentially don’t have governments where you have a lot of capacity to protect those embassies.
Kimberly Schwandt • White House Producer •FOX News Channel