President Obama, expanding on his second-term agenda with less than two weeks to go in the campaign, says that if re-elected he would seek a "grand bargain" with Republicans to cut the deficit within six months, and would also work to win congressional approval of immigration reform.
Obama outlined these goals in a telephone interview with the editor and publisher of the Des Moines Register in Iowa, a crucial battleground state. The White House at first declared that the president's comments were off the record. But on Wednesday, after the newspaper's editor Rick Green blogged that keeping the interview private was a "disservice" to voters, Obama's re-election campaign released a transcript. Obama is seeking the Register's endorsement.
Obama has been under pressure from Republican challenger Mitt Romney and some Democrats for many weeks to be more specific in discussing his plans for a second term.
He made news on the budget and deficit reduction when he told the Register: "We're going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business. It will probably be messy. It won't be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I've been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in [taxes], and work to reduce the costs of our health-care programs." Congress has rejected that ratio in the past.
The White House and Congress face a January deadline to find a budget compromise or more than $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts will go into effect. Obama said, "There's going to be a forcing mechanism to deal with what is the central ideological argument in Washington right now, and that is: How much government do we have, and how do we pay for it?" The government's debt is now estimated at $16 trillion.
Before the release of the Iowa interview, Obama had been touting his economic plan as outlined in brochures his campaign is distributing this week. The brochures summarize his long-standing proposals to promote manufacturing, raise taxes on the rich, and hire more teachers. Obama also released a 60-second TV ad in which he describes these economic ideas.
Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman, says Obama has broken so many promises from his 2008 campaign--such as his pledges to cut the deficit, repair the immigration system, and change politics as usual in Washington--that he can't be trusted again. "Given his history of broken promises, nobody is taking the president's phony election-year commitments seriously," Williams said.
The immigration issue is very important to Hispanic Americans, a key voting bloc that is strongly supportive of Obama, according to the polls. Obama told the Register that if Romney does as poorly among Hispanics as polls suggest, this will encourage Republican lawmakers to drop their opposition to legislation that would give some illegal immigrants a path to legal residency or citizenship. "Since this is off the record," Obama said, referring to the initial ground rule to keep the interview private, "I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community."
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He has written five books, most recently Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.