The Hill's question for President Obama: What are the political repercussions of the debt debate?

Transcript:

Sam Youngman: Good morning, Mr. President. I’d like to go back to something Chuck asked, his first question, about the tone of this debate. I faintly remember your campaign. And I’m guessing that while it hasn’t been ugly, as you say, it’s not what you had in mind when you said you wanted to change the tone in Washington. When you have Senator McConnell making comments that he views these negotiations through the prism of 2012, how much does that poison the well? And going forward, if — big if — you can get a deal on this, can you get anything done with Congress for the next year and a half?

Obama: Well, let me say this. And I’m not trying to poke at you guys. I generally don’t watch what is said about me on cable. I generally don’t read what’s said about me, even in The Hill. And so part of this job is having a thick skin and understanding that a lot of this stuff is not personal.

That’s not going to be an impediment to — whatever Senator McConnell says about me on the floor of the Senate is not going to be an impediment to us getting a deal done. The question is going to be whether at any given moment we’re willing to set politics aside, at least briefly, in order to get something done.

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I don’t expect politicians not to think about politics. But every so often there are issues that are urgent, that have to be attended to, and require us to do things we don’t like to do that run contrary to our base, that gets some constituency that helped elect us agitated because they’re looking at it from a narrow prism. We’re supposed to be stepping back and looking at it from the perspective of what’s good for the country. And if we are able to remind ourselves of that, then there's no reason why we shouldn’t be able to get things done. 

Look, we’ve been obsessing over the last couple of weeks about raising the debt ceiling and reducing the debt and deficit. I’ll tell you what the American people are obsessing about right now is that unemployment is still way too high and too many folks’ homes are still underwater, and prices of things that they need, not just that they want, are going up a lot faster than their paychecks are if they’ve got a job.

And so even after we solve this problem we still got a lot of work to do. Hans was mentioning we should renew the payroll tax for another year, we should make sure unemployment insurance is there for another year —

Hans Nichols, Bloomberg News: Sir, I don't believe that was my point. (Laughter.) 

Obama: But you were making the point about whether or not that issue could be wrapped into this deal. My point is that those are a whole other set of issues that we need to be talking about and working on. I’ve got an infrastructure bank bill that would start putting construction workers back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges. We should be cooperating on that.

Most of the things that I’ve proposed to help spur on additional job growth are traditionally bipartisan. I’ve got three trade deals sitting ready to go. And these are all trade deals that the Republicans told me were their top priorities. They said this would be one of the best job creators that we could have. And yet it’s still being held up because some folks don’t want to provide trade adjustment assistance to people who may be displaced as a consequence of trade. Surely we can come up with a compromise to solve those problems.

So there will be huge differences between now and November 2012 between the parties, and whoever the Republican nominee is, we’re going to have a big, serious debate about what we believe is the right way to guide America forward and to win the future. And I’m confident that I will win that debate, because I think that we’ve got the better approach. But in the meantime, surely we can, every once in a while, sit down and actually do something that helps the American people right here and right now.

Youngman: It’s in the meantime, sir, that I’m curious about. As you just said, raising the debt ceiling is apparently fairly routine, but it’s brought us to the point of economic Armageddon, as you said. If you can get past this one, how can you get any agreement with Congress on those big issues you talked about?

Obama: I am going to keep on working and I’m going to keep on trying. And what I’m going to do is to hope that, in part, this debate has focused the American people’s attention a little bit more and will subject Congress to scrutiny. And I think increasingly the American people are going to say to themselves, you know what, if a party or a politician is constantly taking the position "my way or the high way," constantly being locked into ideologically rigid positions, that we’re going to remember at the polls.

It’s kind of cumulative. The American people aren’t paying attention to the details of every aspect of this negotiation, but I think what the American people are paying attention to is who seems to be trying to get something done, and who seems to be just posturing and trying to score political points. And I think it’s going to be in the interests of everybody who wants to continue to serve in this town to make sure that they are on the right side of that impression.

And that’s, by the way, what I said in the meeting two days ago. I was very blunt. I said the American people do not want to see a bunch of posturing; they don’t want to hear a bunch of sound bites. What they want is for us to solve problems, and we all have to remember that. That’s why we were sent here.

This post was updated at 4:15 p.m.