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Video: Obama on the economy (and Weiner)

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    >>> but let's begin with our exclusive interview with president barack obama . we spoke to him in north carolina on monday. we begin with the president's take on congressman anthony weiner 's scandal.

    >> well, obviously what he did was highly inappropriate. i think he's embarrassed himself. he's acknowledged that. he's embarrassed his wife and his family. ultimately there's going to be a decision for him and his constituents. i can tell you that if it was me, i would resign because public service is exactly that, it's a service to the public. and when you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can't serve as effectively as you need to, at a time when people are worrying about jobs and their mortgages and paying the bills, then you should probably step back. you know, ultimately this job is not about us, it's not about our ambitions, it's not about our positions, it's about how well are we serving the people who sent us to washington. again, ultimately there's going to be a decision that he and his constituents make, but i know that, for me, if i didn't think i could do the job as well as i need to, that it would be time for me to go.

    >> you know the head of the dnc has called for his resignation. did she speak to you as head of the democratic party ?

    >> she didn't speak to me directly. and frankly, i understand why this has generated a lot of attention, and i don't want to minimize how inappropriate the congressman's behavior was. but i've got a lot of other stuff to do, and so on my list of things that consume me on a day-to-day basis, jobs, the economy, afghanistan, this is not something probably that i would have spent a lot of time on or will be spending a lot of time on.

    >> the president of the united states .

    >> that's me.

    >> you're here encouraging private sector hiring. this just after "the new york times" just passed this past friday reported that since the recovery began, businesses have spent just 2% more on hiring people, while at the same time spending 26% more on equipment. so why at a time when corporate america is enjoying record profits have you been unable to convince businesses to hire more people, mr. president?

    >> i don't think it's a matter of me being unable to convince them to hire more people. they're making decisions based on what they think will be good for their companies. a couple of things happened. look, we went through the worse crisis since the great depression. we are now in a process where the economy is growing again and we created 2 million jobs over the last 15 months. but it's not as fast as it needs to be to make up for all the jobs that were lost. the other thing that happened, though, and this goes to the point you were just making, is there are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. you see it when you go to a bank and you use an atm, you don't go to a bank teller , or you go to the airport and you're using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate. so all these things have creakrecreated changes in the economy and this counsel is identifying where the jobs of the future are going to be, how do we make sure there's a match between what people are getting trained for and the jobs that exist, how do we make sure that capital is flowing into those places with the greatest opportunity. we are on the right track. the key is figuring out how do we accelerate it.

    >> that said, you know that with 14 million americans unemployed, and another 8 1/2 unable to get full-time work, that there is a lot of human suffering attached to this. we're talking about bankruptcies, homelessness, hunger. the stress of this, the shame of this. people have started to wonder, because you speak so calmly about this, whether you really truly empathize with these people who have lost their jobs, who are suffering, and people are asking, you know, why are you not angrier, why are you not angrier about what is happening here.

    >> ann , ann , you know, first of all, i don't think people are asking that. people some in the press might be asking that. i think ordinary folks understand, i spend all my time thinking about this stuff because i'm talking to these folks every single day. i wake up every morning thinking about how can i help that man in north carolina or that woman in indiana or that family in pennsylvania get back on their feet, because they write me letters and they say, mr. president, we're about to lose our house, can you help us. mr. president, i worked here for 30 years, right before retirement i got laid off, what do i do now? i have to write back to them. and when i see them at meetings and they start crying, the notion somehow that i'm calm about that is nonsense. but what is true is that, as president, my job is to make sure that i am finding every good idea that we can to move the country forward. what you saw today, you know, our investments in clean energy , making sure that we're dealing with community colleges so that they are more effectively training our workers for jobs, making sure that the economy as a whole is not burdened by regulations that are outdated or don't make sense, making sure that we continue the kinds of tax cuts for small businesses and that we're also providing financing for those small businesses . those are the things ultimately on which i'm going to be judged.

    >> it used to be that when there was corporate growth, jobs would follow. that has not happened this time. and so there's a lot of concern that maybe what's happening is something that's kind of intrinsic, something that's going to be part of the future. and so it's sort of begs the question, in hindsight, did you miss an opportunity by focusing on health care in not focusing enough on job creation last year?

    >> well, you know, i have to tell you, ann , everything i thought about over the first two years was how do we get the economy back on track. that's what we focused on then, that's what we focus on now. but health care is part of our challenge because if companies are spending billions of dollars on rising health care costs, that's money that they're not putting in to hiring the workers or new plants or equipment. talk to any of these businesses, large or small, and they will tell you, as a consequence of their health care costs going up 25%, 50%, or in some cases 100%, that has a dampening i pact on their ability to invest and create jobs.

    >> house republicans are threatening to not allow the debt ceiling to be raised. if you don't agree to deep spending cuts, do you think they're bluffing, given how financially disastrous it would be for the united states to not have the debt ceiling raised, and are you willing to make deep spending cuts?

    >> keep in mind we've already made deep spending cuts. i've proposed a freeze on federal spending, during the last threatened government shutdown we made some really tough cuts on programs that i actually think make a big difference. but given the size of the deficit, i think it was important for us to send a signal that we were serious about getting spending under control. i am absolutely confident that we can move forward on a plan that gets our debt under control, gets our deficit under control, but also makes sure that we're making the investments in the future that are going to help us put people back to work. and the debate that's going to be taking place between me and republican members of congress is not whether or not we are dealing with our deficit in an effective way, there's a way of solving this problem that doesn't require any great changes. what it does require is everybody makes some sacrifices and we make these changes in a balanced way. so far at least in the conversations that i've had and the vice president's been hosting with leaders from both the house and the senate, we've seen some progress. i think that where it's going to get tough is right now republicans are very resistant to any kind of revenue and would rather see us make some sacrifices in programs that the vast majority of the american people think are really important. making sure that seniors on medicare have the kind of security and protection that they need, for example, or making sure that, you know, government functions like food safety or weather satellites are still up there, making sure that our veterans are properly cared for. you can't pay for those things unless we have some additional revenue. and that's going to be a tough debate that takes place. but i take the republican leadership at their word when they say it would be disastrous for us to not increase the debt limit. i do not want to see the united states default on our obligations. the full faith and credit of the united states is the underpinning not only of our way of life but it's also the underpinning of the global financial system . and we could actually have a re reprise of a financial and we're going to get it done in a sensible way. that's what the america people expect.

TODAY staff
updated 6/14/2011 7:33:10 AM ET 2011-06-14T11:33:10

In an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Ann Curry that aired Tuesday, President Barack Obama addressed the notion that he is unemotional about the human toll that the economic crisis has taken.

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“I think ordinary folks understand I spend all my time thinking about this stuff, because I’m talking to these folks every single day,’’ he said. “When I see them at meetings, and they start crying, the notion, somehow, that I’m calm about that, is nonsense. But what is true is that as president, my job is to make sure that I am finding every good idea that we can to move the country forward.’’

That was one of many economy-related topics that the president discussed with Curry, along with his opinions on embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner and potentially increasing the debt ceiling. Curry interviewed the president in Durham, N.C., where he was meeting with the Jobs and Competitiveness Council at the corporate and U.S. manufacturing headquarters of Cree, a manufacturer of energy-efficient LED lighting.

When it comes to the psychological pain that joblessness, bankruptcy, hunger and homelessness have taken on the citizenry, Obama said he understood the emotional component and that he will be ultimately be judged on whether concrete strides are made in correcting the situation.

Story: Obama: It’s ‘nonsense’ I’m calm about state of economy

The success of investments in clean energy, better job training at the college level, tax cuts for small businesses and the elimination of outdated regulations are all programs that will go toward determining whether the administration is successful in combating the economic crisis, he said.

“You know, if what we do works, and people see progress and feel a sense that it’s making a difference, then they are going to respond, and they’re going to feel more confident,’’ he said. “But until they actually see some difference in their lives, they’re going to continue to be frustrated, and so am I.’’

Pete Souza  /  The White House
President Barack Obama is interviewed by Ann Curry at Cree, Inc., in Durham, N.C., on Monday.

Curry pressed the president on the issue of corporations enjoying record profits while the unemployment rate remains at 9.1 percent. Instead of hiring more people, businesses have spent 26 percent more in equipment, according to a recent New York Times report. The question remains whether there has been a structural shift that allows companies to produce record profits by employing smaller work forces.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of me being unable to convince them to hire more people,’’ Obama said. “You know, they’re not making decisions based on what I say to them. They’re making decisions based on what they think will be good for their companies.’’

Story: Obama: 'I would resign' in Weiner's situation

Challenges in job creation
The president noted that job creation is not happening fast enough to match the amount of jobs that were wiped out during the height of the recession.

Increased efficiencies in certain sectors have meant that a smaller work force can produce the same or more than a larger work force, according to Obama, so the emphasis has to be on developing new industries and identifying jobs that will not be made obsolete by better technology. He cited the steel industry as one example where efficiency has thinned the work force, but there is still room to compete because the high energy price of transporting goods from China to the United States has helped the U.S. industry despite lower labor costs in China.

Story: Obama pushes jobs plan in North Carolina

“The challenge, though, is it only takes 100 workers to make what it used to take 1,000 workers to make in terms of the amount of steel,’’ he said. “So that’s why we’re going to have to look at new industries, and encourage entrepreneurs to invest in these new industries, and make sure that our workers have the skills to train them.

“For us to employ the same numbers of workers as we need to, to get the unemployment rate down, we’ve got to look at new sectors, new markets. We’ve got to do more exporting.  So one of my big areas of focus has been on increasing exports.’’

The payroll tax cut and the acceleration of business depreciation that were passed in December are beginning to have an effect, according to the president, but more ideas are necessary to put more Americans back to work after creating 2 million jobs in the last 15 months. Certainly part of that is convincing corporations to hire more people, and the president cited the creation of more jobs in the embattled auto industry as one positive example of that. However, with developments like high gas prices, the debt limit issue, credit card debt and the loss of home equity affecting citizens, businesses are not moving fast enough to invest in human capital.

Video: Obama on the economy (and Weiner) (on this page)

“A lot of businesses out there, I think, want to invest,’’ he said. “They recognize that just sitting on that money is not doing a lot of good. Businesses have been more hesitant than I’d like them to be.

“The interesting thing is when I talk to businesses right now — they’re actually more optimistic about the economic prospects than a lot of the reports that we’ve seen lately in the press. They feel as if we’re moving in a pretty good direction, but they also recognize we’ve got to accelerate hiring in order for this recovery to fully take.’’

Missed opportunity?
With corporate growth not being matched by job creation, Curry questioned the president on whether he missed an important opportunity by focusing more on the health care crisis than job creation early in his administration.

“Everything I thought about over the first two years was, how do we get the economy back on track?’’ Obama said. “That’s what we focused on then, and that’s what we focus on now, but health care is part of our challenge. If companies are spending billions of dollars on rising health care costs, that’s money that they’re not putting into hiring the workers, or new plants, or equipment.’’

Video: Obama policies in spotlight at GOP debate (on this page)

Obama also discussed the challenge of putting people to work with government-created programs aimed at ramping up improvements to infrastructure like roads, water systems and ports while simultaneously trying to reduce the daunting national debt.

“How do we make sure that government is living within its means, because part of the uncertainty that’s out there is people not sure whether Washington can get its act together,’’ he said. “Democrats and Republicans are willing to compromise for a balanced approach to starting to bring down our debt over the medium and long term. So it’s a little bit of trying to apply the brakes, and tap[ping] on the accelerator at the same time. That’s a challenge.’’

Weiner scandal
The president also offered his opinion in the ongoing scandal involving Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, who admitted to sending explicit photos of himself to women online.

“I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign,’’ Obama told Curry.

Weiner has been the talk of the nation since he was caught sending lewd photos of himself to various women on Twitter and Facebook, causing the head of the Democratic National Party to publicly call for him to step down and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to demand an ethics committee investigation.

“When you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to, at the time when people are worrying about jobs, and their mortgages and paying the bills — then you should probably step back,’’ Obama said.

Obama added that Weiner has “embarrassed himself” and his wife and family, but did not go as far as stating that Weiner should resign. He said it will ultimately come down to a decision by Weiner and his constituents as to whether he will continue in office, but made it clear that if the shoe were on the other foot, he would resign.

Story: Weiner seeks treatment, leave of absence from House

“I know that for me, if I didn’t think I could do the job as well as I need to, then it’d be time for me to go.’’

Obama did not speak to Sen. Patty Murray, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, before she publicly called for Weiner to resign. While the president understands why the scandal has generated so much attention, he admitted that it was behind joblessness, the economy and Afghanistan on his radar right now.

The president also spoke with Curry about the upcoming battle with Republicans over possibly increasing the debt ceiling.

“I take the Republican leadership at their word when they say it would be disastrous for us to not increase the debt limit,’’ he said. “I do not want to see the United States default on our obligations.

“The full faith and credit of the United States is the underpinning not only of our way of life, it’s also the underpinning of a global financial system. We could actually have a reprise of a financial crisis, if we play this too close to the line. So we’re going be working hard over the next month. My expectation is we’re going get it done in a sensible way. That’s what the American people expect.’’

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Obama noted how he has already proposed a freeze on federal spending and that there are some programs that “under any circumstances probably don’t work or don’t make sense for us to invest in.’’ However, he added that he does not want deep spending cuts at the expense of important programs.

“The question is do we do so in a way that’s balanced, in a way that ensures that we still have the best airports [and] the best roads in the world,’’ he said. “That we still have the best school systems and universities in the world. That says that we’re still protecting our seniors and our most vulnerable citizens if they really, really need help.

“I think that where it’s going to get tough is, right now Republicans are very resistant to any kind of revenue, and would rather see us make some sacrifices [on] programs that the vast majority of American people think are really important.’’

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