Dec. 20, 2013— -- President Obama acknowledged that his administration "screwed it up" on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act in an end-of-year news conference at the White House today but, eager to pivot to 2014, suggested that the new year should be a "year of action" on his economic priorities.
"Since I'm in charge, obviously, we screwed it up," he told reporters at the White House today, even as he announced that more than 1 million people had signed up for health insurance through federal and state marketplaces.
"I've also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day and we keep moving forward," Obama said. "When I look at the landscape for next year, what I say to myself is we're poised to do really good things.
"The economy is stronger than what it's been in a long time. Our next challenge is to make sure that everybody benefits from that, not just a few folks," he added.
Today's news conference caps a difficult year by most standards for a president who was re-elected just 12 months ago by a 4-point margin, and accepted his victory by telling Americans that the election was a mandate to focus on "your jobs, not ours."
Instead, events and political missteps have made 2013 a year of few accomplishments for Obama, and one that has earned him his lowest approval ratings ever in public polls.
Asked whether the year has been the worst of his presidency, Obama shrugged it off.
"That's not how I think about it," he said. "I have now been in office five years, close to five years. We have had ups and we have had downs."
His legislative wish-list that included gun control, immigration overhaul and tax reform are all left undone as he and Congress prepare to leave Washington for the rest of the year. A two-week government shutdown also stymied any legislative progress on the Hill.
"I look at this past year, there are areas where there have obviously been some frustrations where I wish congress had moved more aggressively," Obama said today. "Even when Congress doesn't move on things they should move on, there are a whole bunch of things that we're still doing."
The president has also spent a considerable amount of time dealing with the fallout of a substantial leak of information about secret surveillance programs by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Obama's panel of experts this week released a report critical of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, and today Obama said he would address its recommendations more fully in January.
Still, Obama defended the NSA's protections of Americans' privacy, despite the report's 46 recommendations which presented several significant changes to oversight of the program, and recommended that the administration end its mass collection of Americans' telephone records altogether.
"I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around," Obama said. "There continues not to be evidence that this particular program has been abused in how it was used."
He hinted that his administration might be open to changing the configuration of the phone data collection program by allowing telecom companies to store that information longer so that the government can access it when necessary.
"It is possible, for example, that some of the same information that the intelligence community feels is required to keep people safe can be obtained by having the private phone companies keep these records longer and having some mechanism that they may be accessed," Obama said.
But he recognized that the government might need to provide more "confidence" to Americans and the international community as a result of the leaks.
"Just because we can do something doesn't mean we necessarily should," Obama said. "The values that we have as Americans are the ones that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders."
The news conference came hours before Obama and his family are set to depart for their annual two-week winter break in his home state of Hawaii.
And the president fielded several questions about whether the political missteps of this year have done permanent damage to the trust Americans have in him.
"We are going to continue to work every single day to make sure that the implementation of the health care law, the website, all elements of it work better every single day," Obama said.
There is, however, one silver lining as Obama looks toward 2014.
Obama praised bipartisan negotiators Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-W.I., for brokering a small, but meaningful budget compromise that takes another government shutdown off the table for a year.
And he suggested that the momentum could be replicated on other issues such as tax and immigration overhaul.
He warned against lawmakers seeking to force negotiations over whether the country raises its debt limit, which is set to be reached sometime in the early part of 2014.
"I can't imagine that having seen this possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress that folks are thinking actually about plunging us back into the kind of brinkmanship and governance by crisis which has done us so much harm of the past few years," Obama said.
"I've got to assume folks aren't crazy enough to start that thing again."