Here’s the full transcript of Frank Vascellaro’s interview with President Obama.
Frank: May I start with the obvious? The conversations between you and your staff today with Boehner’s staff and Boehner, was there anything that was new?
President Obama: We’re in constant communication. I remain hopeful that we can get this resolved. It shouldn’t be hard to get resolved. A lot of viewers are hearing about the fiscal cliff but may not know what exactly does this mean. Look, if we don’t do anything, if Congress does nothing, then on Jan. 1 taxes on every family in America goes up. For the typical, middle class family, that means $2,200 out of pocket. That’s $2,200 that could be spent on groceries, a mortgage, sending a kid to college. It means $200 billion dollars come out of our economy that suddenly businesses aren’t seeing, and as a consequence, they may slow down in terms of their investment and their hiring. So it would be bad for the economy, bad for American families. The good news is, that there’s a pretty simple solution to that part of it. The Democrats and Republicans both say that they don’t want taxes on middle class families to go up. So we could go ahead and pass a bill, extending middle class tax cuts for all income $250,000 or below – that means 98 percent of Americans wouldn’t see their taxes go up a single dime, that means 97 percent of small businesses wouldn’t see their income taxes go up and that takes a lot of the edge off the fiscal cliff. The Senate’s already passed that bill, Democrats in the house are ready to pass that bill, the only holdouts right now are House Republicans. Obviously I’m ready to sign that bill. The other thing that the fiscal cliff involves are our long-term debt and deficits and what I said on the campaign, remains true. I’ve already cut a trillion dollars in spending; I’m willing to do a lot more cuts in spending. We also need to pair it up with a little more revenue. For people in the top 2 percent income brackets, who want to go back to the Clinton rates and pay slightly higher taxes, you couple $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of revenue and you can solve the deficit problem as well, which would obviously give us a lot of certainty going forward and allow the economy to gain some steam. So, the big problem right now is that the Republicans in the House are resistant to the idea of the wealthiest Americans paying higher tax rates and I understand they have a philosophical objection, on the other hand, we’re willing to make some really tough decisions about spending cuts, we’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of spending cuts. What I don’t want to do is ask seniors to pay a lot more up for Medicare or young people to pay a lot more for college because they’re not getting the same deal on student loans just to finance a tax cut for me. I think that if we can get that change in attitude on that particular issue, we should be able to get something done before the end of the year.
Frank: When I was on the hill today, they told me that these spending cuts aren’t real. So I have a 12-year-old at home, so I’m going to go back and articulate your case but when he looks at me and says, ‘Well, who’s telling the truth? Who’s really willing to make some spending cuts?’ We know you’re insistent on the 2 percent, but explain the cuts in a way that Minnesotans and maybe my kid could understand.
President Obama: I think this is pretty straight forward. First of all, we’ve already made a trillion dollars in cuts so people can take a look and see the difficult decisions that we’ve already made. Cuts in defense spending, cuts in social programs. I’ve also put out a budget. So the hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts that I’m already prepared to make, we’ve got an outline specifying them, line-by-line. They’re on our website. So when you hear the idea, these aren’t real, they’re not specific enough, etc., the truth is, is that anybody that actually takes the time to look at the budget that we’ve submitted, knows that they’re real. Now, Republicans might want to see additional spending cuts, which is fine, they should put forward what else they want to cut and we’ll be happy to examine them. The one thing I won’t do is to cut some core things that I think seventh graders – or anybody – could understand. Do we want to cut our investments in making sure that young people, who are working hard, can go to college? I don’t want to make that cut ‘cause that will not be good for our economy. Do we want to say to a family that’s got a disabled child, we’re going to cut our support so that your disabled child is getting the special attention they need so that they can succeed. I’m not going to do that. And I don’t think your son or anybody else would be willing to do that. And so the idea here is to make sure the cuts that we’re making are ones that don’t either impact the way that we grow in the future or hurt people who are vulnerable and need help. And I think we can do that in an intelligent way. So if you want to know who is telling the truth about this, I think it’s very straight forward – you can go to my website, whitehouse.gov, and you’ll see all the cuts we’re prepared to make. We’re prepared to make more. And I think if you ask Republicans give us specifics on what more you want cut, they’d be hard-pressed to tell you.
Frank: Is there an issue of trust when it comes to negotiating?
President Obama: You know my sense is, it’s less an issue of trust and this has more to do with politics. I think the idea of not raising taxes has become sort of a religion for a lot of members of the Republican Party. I think Speaker Boehner has a contentious caucus, as his caucus is tough on him sometimes so he doesn’t want to look like he’s giving in to me somehow because that might hurt him in his own caucus. They’re real philosophical differences on issues. But I think this is why it’s so important to hear directly from the American people. We’ve gathered stories from across the country about what losing $2,000 would mean to them. We have about 300,000 responses so far and if any of your viewers want to communicate what this means to them, they can use the hashtag #My2K on a twitter account or go to whitehouse.gov. And I think the more members from Congress hears directly from people and says you know what, let’s stop bickering all the time, we just got through an election, we know what we have to do, we have to make some tough cuts, folks who can afford it should pay a little higher taxes, let’s get this done, let’s protect middle class families. The more that kind of common sense prevails, the better off we’re going to be.
Frank: Senators Klobuchar and Franken are trying to delay and actually repeal part of the medical devices tax, which has a huge impact on Minnesota companies. Would you be willing to see that delayed?
President Obama: Uh, no. And here’s why. The health care bill is going to provide those health care companies, 30 million new customers. It’s going to be great for business and they’re doing really well right now and they’re going to get 30 million more customers as a consequence, so this additional tax essentially comes back to them as new customers. I think it’s very important for us to maintain the principal that A.) nobody should go bankrupt when they get sick in this country and B.) the providers of medical services should recognize they’re going to get a benefit from all of these uninsured folks suddenly having insurance and that means they should be willing to do a little bit in order to make that happen. It’s not just medical device folks, hospitals are doing a little bit more because they know now they’re not going to have uncompensated care in emergency rooms, everybody’s going to have some kind of insurance. Doctors, same kind of thing. So this is not unique to the medical device industry. The idea is that when you have 30 million more people coming in, you’re going to make money, you can do a little more to help facilitate and make sure people are getting the health care they need.
Frank: Minnesota’s known as the state of hockey, and we’re under the NHL lockout right now. Would you be willing to intervene in that lockout?
President Obama: You know, look. I’ve got to say, because we’ve had an NBA lockout, we’ve had an NFL lockout during the course of my presidency, the president of the United States shouldn’t have to get involved in a sports lockout. My message to owners and to players is, you guys make a lot of money and you make a lot of money on the backs of fans, so do right by your fans. You can figure out how to spread out a bunch of revenue that you’re bringing in, but do right by the people who support you. And I shouldn’t have to be involved in a dispute between really wealthy players and even wealthier owners. They should be able to settle this themselves. And remember who it is that’s putting all that money in their pockets.