Transcript: Diane Sawyer Interviews Obama

OBAMA: You know, we haven't had the conversation because my presumption is that they are staying. There's a lot of "hue and cry" in Washington because this is what happens. The political season is starting a little bit early this year. But the fact of the matter is that when you look at the cards that we were handed at the beginning of last year and where we are now, a lot of that has to do with sound, steady economic leadership. And they've been terrific advisers for me and I think they will continue to be terrific advisers.

SAWYER: To all the people terrified about the deficit, $1.5 trillion more this year than taken in expected next year. Can you guarantee them still that there will be no taxes on anybody who makes under $250,000 a year? That's still the absolute rule?

OBAMA: I can guarantee that the worst thing we could do would be to raise taxes when the economy is still this weak. So we're going to be rolling out our budget. I'm not going to be giving you too many previews of the State of the Union, but I think it's important to understand that No. 1, I haven't raised taxes on anybody, I've cut taxes. Ninety-five percent of working Americans have gotten a tax cut, partly because it's the right thing to do because of the recession, partly because it's just something I campaigned on. So that's point number one.

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Point number two in terms of the deficit. Understand where our deficit index comes from. When I walked into office, we had a $1.3 trillion deficit. We also had $8 billion (sic) -- $8 trillion worth of national debt that had been accumulated from the previous administrations, cutting taxes during war time, a prescription drug plan that wasn't paid for. The only additions that we added were the stimulus package last year, which amounted to $1 trillion. Now that's a serious amount of money to rescue the economy. But it pales in comparison to the structural deficit that's built into our budget right now, that is a problem that is long running and we're going to have to solve.

And we're not going to solve it easily. There aren't any magic solutions to it. It's going to be a slow chipping away, and what I'm going to do is propose a series of measures that show we are serious about it. That I, the president, am willing to not just point fingers, but actually make some tough choices myself. My hope is that both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill will join me in this effort of solving the problem, instead of trying to kick the can down the road and blame somebody else.

SAWYER: Health care -- going forward, should all the conversations, all the meetings be on C-SPAN?

OBAMA: You know, I think your question points out to a legitimate mistake that I made during the course of the year, and that is that we had to make so many decisions quickly in a very difficult set of circumstances that after awhile, we started worrying more about getting the policy right than getting the process right. But I had campaigned on process. Part of what I had campaigned on was changing how Washington works, opening up transparency and I think it is -- I think the health care debate as it unfolded legitimately raised concerns not just among my opponents, but also amongst supporters that we just don't know what's going on. And it's an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals.

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