Obama Defends Obamacare and NSA, Touts the Economy in Year-End Briefing

Obama to announce NSA reforms in January.

President Barack Obama listens to a question during his end-of-the-year news conference on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, in the Brady Press Room at the White House in Washington.

President Barack Obama told the year's worst lie.

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In his last expected press conference of 2013, President Barack Obama spent about an hour Friday defending many of his administration's key programs, including the Affordable Care Act and National Security Agency surveillance practices that recently have come under intense scrutiny.

Obama led off by touting the economic gains made in his fifth year in office. Businesses created more than 2 million jobs, he said.

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"This morning we learned that over the summer our economy grew at its strongest pace in two years, the unemployment rate has steadily fallen to its lowest point in five years," he said. "Our tax code is fairer and our fiscal situation is firmer, with deficits that are now less than half of what they were when I took office."

Obama also took Congress to task for not agreeing to an extension of unemployment benefits as part of or in addition to the recently passed budget deal.

"Because Congress didn't act, more than 1 million of their constituents will lose a vital economic lifeline at Christmastime, leaving a lot of job seekers without any source of income at all," he said. "I think we're a better country than that. We don't abandon each other when times are tough."

 

Though Obama optimistically tried to turn the page to 2014 -- which he said will be a "year of action" -- he was faced with criticism of his NSA programs, as well as questions about his plunging popularity with the American people and the ever-changing status of Obamacare.

"I took this job to deliver for the American people and I knew and will continue to know that there are going to be ups and downs on it," Obama said. "As long as I've got an opportunity every single day to make sure that in ways large and small I'm creating greater opportunity for people … I'll take it."

Obama said he would make "a pretty definitive statement" on NSA reforms in January, presumably during his State of the Union address. But he acknowledged changes would be made.

"These are a series of judgment calls we're making every single day," he said.

Spying by the federal government has come under heightened scrutiny following more leaks by Edward Snowden and a U.S. District Court ruling against the constitutionality of an NSA data collection program. But Obama still defended his record.

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"The environment has changed in ways that I think requires us to take that into account, but the analysis that I've been doing throughout has always been periodically looking at what we are doing and asking ourselves, 'Are we doing this correctly?'" he said. "Yes, these are tough problems that I am glad to have the privilege of tackling."

Addressing continuing refinements, delays and changing rules within his signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act, Obama seemed ready to turn the page rather than re-hash the well-publicized problems with the Healthcare.gov website.

"We keep moving forward," he said, noting that more than 500,000 people bought health insurance in December. "When you try to do something this big affecting this many people, it's going to be hard."

Obama and the rest of the first family are headed to Hawaii for their annual Christmas vacation Friday evening.

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