Obama says to keep standing up to Congress on taxes

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2011 7:08 PM
Obama says to keep standing up to Congress on taxes

By Laura MacInnis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama defended his leadership style on Sunday and said he would keep standing up to Congress as another stand-off over taxes and deficits brewed on Capitol Hill.

In an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," Obama suggested his wife, Michelle, had mixed feelings about their time in the White House but said he had no hesitation about seeking re-election next year, saying he wanted to finish the job of putting the U.S. economy on stronger, and fairer, footing.

Asked if he'd had any doubts about pursuing a second term, given so many of his supporters have been disappointed by his struggles to get things done in a divided Washington, Obama said: "No."

"Not because our quality of life might not be better if I were not president. Not because Michelle is so enamored with me being president. But because we both think that what we're doing is really important for a lot of people out there," he said, saying it was inevitable his approval ratings would slip once he took office.

"If my goal was to maintain the extraordinary popularity that I had right after I made my convention speech in 2004, then I would have never left the Senate," he said. "I wouldn't have been leading this country, but people would be really attracted, because I wouldn't have had to make any choices and make any decisions and exercise any responsibility. I took a different path. And as Michelle reminds me, 'You volunteered for this thing.'"

A majority of Americans believe Obama does not deserve a second four-year term, according to recent polls, which show only about a third of the country gives the Democrat good marks for his handling of the economy.

The White House has sought to stress that Obama inherited a fragile economy from his Republican predecessor George W. Bush, who also added to the U.S. debtload with aggressive spending on the wars he waged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But many voters fault Obama for failing to kickstart growth and slash the jobless rate, which at 8.6 percent remains about double the level considered normal for the United States.

Republican contenders for the White House, including Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, have said the president was not up to the task of steering the country out of economic crisis.

UNSATISFIED

Obama has also drawn criticism for failing to overcome an impasse with Republicans in Congress, who brought the United States to the verge of sovereign default in August in a fight about U.S. debt levels and then blocked his $447 billion jobs bill to resist tax increases on the wealthy.

With another battle heating up, this time over payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits that Obama wants extended before the end of the year, the president said he would keep pushing for a deal that requires rich Americans to "pay a little more."

Republicans have said that raising taxes on the rich would punish entrepreneurs and dent hiring, and they want to see spending cuts to ensure the payroll and unemployment moves do not add to already-large U.S. deficits.

They have accused Obama of turning his back to Congress and making a series of campaign-style economic speeches on the road instead of sitting down to negotiate workable remedies.

In the CBS interview, the president said that while he wanted to work with Congress on "common sense" solutions, Republicans intent on ousting him had "made a different calculation, which was, 'You know what? We really screwed up the economy. Obama seems popular. Our best bet is to stand on the sidelines, because we think the economy's going to get worse, and at some point, just blame him.'"

He said the American people "shouldn't feel satisfied" at present and he said he would keep pushing Republicans to "get off the dime" about taxes and ask his fellow Democrats in Congress to accept reforms to benefit programs so long as the cuts don't take effect while growth remains weak.

"We've got a lot more work to do in order to get this country and the economy moving in a way that benefits everybody, as opposed to just a few," he said, later adding it would take "more than one term" to fulfill his 2008 campaign pledge to change Washington's culture and put partisanship aside to tackle big problems.

"The one thing I've prided myself on before I was president, and it turns out that continues to be true as president: I'm a persistent son of a gun. I just stay at it. And I'm just going to keep on staying at it as long as I'm in this office," he said.

On Sunday morning, Obama and his family attended a church service near the White House where Reverand Luis Leon referenced the president in a sermon about "disillusionment," saying many people had unfairly expected Obama could cure the United States of all its problems when he took office.

"This is not a political diatribe by the way. It's simply stating the obvious," he said to laughter in the congregation.

(Additional reporting by Anna Yukhananov)