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NBC's Curry: 'Disastrous' Not to Raise Debt Ceiling; Asks Obama if GOP is Just 'Bluffing'

In an interview with President Obama on Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Ann Curry fretted over Republican calls for spending cuts before raising the nation's debt limit: "Do you think they're bluffing, given how financially disastrous it would be for the United States not to have the debt ceiling raised? And are you willing to make deep spending cuts?"

Obama laughably claimed: "Well, keep in mind, we've already made deep spending cuts. I mean, I've proposed a freeze on federal spending, during the last threatened government shutdown we made some really tough cuts..." He then used the opportunity to bash the GOP:

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 know, you can't pay for those things unless we have some additional revenue.

Earlier in the interview, Curry questioned Obama about the stalled economy but seemed to place more of the blame on businesses rather than the President: "The New York Times just 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?"

Curry failed to point out that the very North Carolina business Obama was visiting on Monday, Cree LED Light Company, has hired more employees in China than the United States.

In the second part of her interview with Obama aired on Tuesday's Today, Curry worried about the toll the presidency may be taking on the First Family: "I've been wondering, in the non-stop intensity of being President of the United States, have you ever thought to yourself that maybe one term was enough?" Obama laughed and replied: "Well, I'm sure there are days where I say that one term is enough. What keeps me going is a belief that the work that we started in 2009 is not yet complete."

Curry followed up: "So you probably still though had to have a family meeting. Did you ask Michelle and the kids about this at the table?" Obama remarked: "Yeah, you know, look, Michelle and the kids are wonderful in that if I said, 'You know what, guys, I want to do something different,' they'd be fine. They're not invested in daddy being president or my husband being president."

Curry again wondered: "So in the conversation around the dinner table about thorns and roses, as you assess your day, the kids didn't say that this was a thorn, the idea of you running for re-election?"

Here is a full transcript of the first part of Curry's interview with Obama aired on the June 14 Today:

 

7:00AM ET TEASE:

ANN CURRY: Today exclusive, President Obama weighs in for the first time on the Anthony Weiner scandal.

BARACK OBAMA: I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign.

CURRY: And opens up about the major issues facing his bit for re-election, the economy. Why are you not angrier about what is happening here? This morning, our exclusive interview with the President.

7:01AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: Obviously you went to North Carolina to talk to the President about jobs and housing, but a lot of the newspapers this morning are running headlines based on the question you asked about Congressman Weiner.

ANN CURRY: That's of course because it's the first time he's been able to weigh in on that question. So we'll here what he has to say about that coming up. But obviously this economy is really the big story because of the – it's going to be the key issue in the election, which is just over a year away. We've got a lot of ground to cover with the President. We had an exclusive interview with him, so – as we just mentioned – so we're going to have that for you straight ahead.

7:02AM ET SEGMENT:

CURRY: Let's begin with our exclusive interview with President Barack Obama. We spoke to him in North Carolina on Monday. And we began with the President's take on Congressman Anthony Weiner's scandal.

BARACK OBAMA: 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'd be time for me to go.

CURRY: You know the head of the DNC has called for his resignation. Did she speak to you as head of the Democratic Party?

OBAMA: 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.

ANNOUNCER: The President of the United States.

OBAMA: That's me.

CURRY: You're here encouraging private sector hiring. This just after The New York Times just 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?

OBAMA: Well, 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 created changes in the economy and what we have to do now, and that's what this job council is all about, is identifying where the jobs of the future are going to be, how do we make sure that 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.

CURRY: That said, you know that with 14 million Americans unemployed, and another 8 ½ unable to get full-time work, that there is a lot of human suffering attached to this. We're talking about bankruptcies, homelessness, hunger. You know, 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've 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?

OBAMA: Ann, Ann, you know, first of all, I don't think people are asking that, maybe 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?' And 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, us – 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.

CURRY: 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?

OBAMA: 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 into hiring new 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%, or 50%, or in some cases 100%, that has a dampening impact on their ability to invest and create jobs.

CURRY: 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 not to have the debt ceiling raised? And are you willing to make deep spending cuts?

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, we've already made deep spending cuts. I mean, 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 big radical 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 know, 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, it's also the underpinning of the global financial system. And we could actually have a reprise of a financial crisis if we play this to close to the line. So we're going to be working hard over the next month and my expectation is we're going to get it done in a sensible way. That's what the American people expect.

CURRY: And we'll have much more with the President coming up in our next half hour, including how his family feels about him running for a second term of office and what surprises President Obama the most about his two daughters.

- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.