TRANSCRIPT: ABC News Exclusive Interview with President Barack Obama

OBAMA: I think I put out the principle that penalties are appropriate for people who try to free ride the system and force others to pay for their health insurance.

TAPPER: OK. I know you think you think that -- you look at the last week's elections as a -- as a mixed bag...

OBAMA: Yes.

TAPPER: ...you won some and you lost some. Democrats did well some places and not in others. Is there any message that you got from the exit polls, from the election results in Virginia, New Jersey or elsewhere that you didn't know?

OBAMA: You know, here's, I think, the main message, is that the American people are looking at over 10 percent unemployment and they're nervous and they're worried and they're anxious. And they want to make sure that the people here in Washington are fighting for them. Now, in these state races, I think those were pretty unique.

Virginia has its own political culture and so does New Jersey. The New York 23 race, I do think, sent an important signal, because Bill Owens, the Democrat in a traditionally Republican district, a district that had been Republican for 100 years, did not shy away from saying he supported health insurance reform, that he supported the Recovery Act and the progress that we have made there and ended up winning.

But I don't think there's any denying the fact that people are worried out there. And, you know, what I've said to fellow Democrats is let's get the job done on the health care bill that is so important to this country's long-term wellbeing, we can look back at the end of this year and I think we'll be able to legitimately say that we have had the most productive legislative session at least since 1965.

But there are going to be two things that we've got to focus on next year. And we are already beginning to work diligently on this. Now that we've rescued the economy and the economy is growing, businesses aren't yet hiring. And so what can we do to make sure that job growth is accelerated even as the economy begins to recover?

And the other thing that I think a lot of Independents, Democrats and Republicans, all are concerned about is what are we going to do about this long-term debt?

And we've got to show people that we are responsible stewards for their taxpayer dollars and that we're taking some serious steps to at least lay the foundation -- the pathway for bringing those deficits down over the next several years. We may not be able to do it all in one big gulp because the economy is still very weak right now. And, you know, any steps to take to shrink the deficit could potentially take too much money out of the economy at a time when it needs it. But at least people have to be convinced that we understand the problem

And that we're working on it. And if we do those things, then I think the American people will -- will feel like we have been good and responsible stewards for an economy during some very difficult times.

TAPPER: But are Independent voters, who -- who went for you in Virginia or -- or split in Virginia...

OBAMA: Yes.

TAPPER: ...against McCain and you won in New Jersey, but they went for the Republican and the so-called Obama voters, the young voters...

OBAMA: Yes.

TAPPER: ...are they not convinced of what you just said? Are they not convinced that you're working hard enough for the economy? Are they not convinced that you -- you're doing enough to reduce the deficit?

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