President Barack Obama says immigration reform, gun control, infrastructure spending and domestic energy production will top his second-term agenda, while his efforts to curb the growth of Medicare and Social Security may be tied to the willingness of Republicans to raise taxes on wealthy Americans.
In a wide-ranging interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing today, Obama calls Dec. 14, the day a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut, killed himself and 27 others, mostly children, “the worst day of my presidency.”
Warning of the adverse market reactions possible if Congress fails to reach a bipartisan deal before Jan. 1 to avert the so-called fiscal cliff , the president issues a call for action in the interview taped yesterday. The Republican-run House is set for an evening session, with little more than 24 hours left for the expirations of Bush-era tax cuts and automatic spending cuts set to take effect.
Obama also defends former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel’s character against critics of his past stances on gays and Israel. The criticisms surfaced after Hagel was floated as a leading contender for defense secretary. Obama said while he’s not aware of anything in Hagel’s record that would disqualify him to serve as defense secretary he’s not yet decided whom to nominate.
In the interview, Obama describes himself as “a pretty practical guy” who is “not driven by some ideological agenda.”
Obama says it’s “just not true” that the gridlock in Congress is the result of an unwillingness by both parties to cooperate, laying the balance of the blame on Republicans and saying the fiscal cliff impasse reflects “how far certain factions inside the Republican Party have gone.”
On gun control, Obama says he is “skeptical” of gun advocates’ support for placing armed guards at schools throughout the country.
“I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools, and I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem,” he says.
The Newtown shootings strengthened his resolve for an assault rifle ban and other measures, Obama says, and he expects to ask Congress to pass early next year.
“I’m going to be putting forward a package and I’m going to be putting my full weight behind it,” the president says.
At the same time, he says, “This is not going to be simply a matter of me spending political capital.” He says Congress will act only if Americans make it a priority.
Asked whether he will commit to getting “significant” reform on entitlements passed by Congress in the first year of his second term, Obama says no. Noting he has shown a willingness to cut how inflation is calculated on Social Security, against the wishes of other Democrats, Obama says he’s also made clear to Republicans that “you are not only going to cut your way to prosperity.”
“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.’”