President Obama Grilled on Superbowl Sunday

Obama addresses health care, economy and national security in interview.

February 7, 2010, 8:15 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2010— -- The Indianapolis Colts and New Orlean Saints weren't the only ones under pressure on Superbowl Sunday.

President Obama, wearing a casual blue button-down shirt and tan khakis, was grilled in a live, pre-game interview by CBS's Katie Couric on issues ranging from health care reform, national-deficit reduction, and national security.

The president defended his push for health care reform, saying health insurance premiums would "keep on beating down families, small businesses, large businesses -- it's going to be a huge drain on the economy. We're going to have to do something about it. I think we can."

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The president said he would meet later this month with Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders to "go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward."

He dismissed the notion he was starting back at "square one."

"What I want to do is look at the Republican ideas that are out there," he said. "I want to be very specific: 'How do you guys want to lower costs? How do you guys intend to reform the insurance markets so that people with preexisting conditions, for example, can get health care? How do you want to make sure the 30 million people who don't have health insurance can get it? What are your ideas specifically?'

"If we can go step-by-step through these issues, and arrive at some agreements, then procedurely there's no reason why we can't do it a lot faster than the process took last year," he said.

On health care reform Couric said people watched the "sausage being made, and quite frankly, it made them pretty sick to their stomachs."

"What is absolutely true is that getting something passed through Congress, with 535 members, is hard," the president said. "It's especially hard with something as big as health care."

Couric asked the president to respond to those who said there was no change in Washington.

The president cited making the White House visitor's log public for the first time in "the history of the Republic," eliminating lobbyists from boards and commissions, and encouraging more transparency on the recovery act and how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

"We have instituted a whole range of changes, that give people a lot more confidence in what we're doing," he said.

"But all these things take time. I'm not going to transform a culture in Washington, or anywhere else, over the course of a year. We're just going to keep chipping away at it, and that's what we've tried to do," he said.

On economic recovery, President Obama said it was not "happening as fast as we'd like."

"That's why there's still some things we can do, in terms of tax credits for small businesses, taking some of that TARP money that's been repaid and giving it to small community banks so they can lend it to small businesses, giving job credits to small businesses for hiring, potentially a million small businesses out there could get $5,000 for each employee they hire this year. All those things, I think, are moving us in the right direction."

On the federal deficit, the President said, "the honest assessment is this -- we had a big structural deficit even before the recession. The recession made it much worse. We're not going to solve this overnight. We don't want to either raise taxes or drastically slash government spending while the economy is still fragile."

Speaking at the national tea party convention on Saturday evening, former Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had a platform from which to criticize the president.

"He has some misguided decisions that he is making that he is expecting us to just kind of sit down and shut up and accept, and many of us are not going to sit down and shut up. We're going to say, 'No, we do not like this'," she said on "FOX News Sunday" following her appearance.

"When he's up there at a -- I'll call it a lectern -- when he is up there and he is telling us, basically, 'I know best. My people here in the White House know best, and we are going to tell you that yes, you do want this essentially nationalized health care system.' And we're saying, 'No, we don't.' And the messages are not being received by Barack Obama. So I think instead of lecturing, he needs to stop and he needs to listen on health care issues, on national security."

Palin said incurring "greater and greater debt" was "immoral."

"I believe is immoral because we're handing the bill to our children. They're going to have to pay for our needs and some of our wants today, and I think that that is unfair," she said.

President Obama criticized Republicans for cosponsoring a bill to set up a bipartisan deficit reduction commission and later deciding not to vote for it, but said he was willing to work with Republicans on reducing the deficit.

"If Democrats and Republicans come together in a sensible way, put everything on the table, not trying to position themselves politically ahead of time, then there's no reason why we can't start putting in place some serious measures that will start driving the deficit down long-term. The biggest thing, the most important thing that we can do on deficits," he said, "is to get a health reform package passed."

Palin also criticized the president for being weak on national security, by allowing 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad to be tried in federal court in the U.S. versus a military tribunal, and for allowing the failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab to be read his Miranda rights 15 minutes after being arrested.

"This, like a mere law enforcement matter, places our country at grave risk, because that's not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this. They know we're at war. And to win that war, we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern," Palin said Saturday.

The president defended both decisions.

"I think that the most important thing for the public to understand is we're not handling any of these cases any different than the Bush administration handled them, all through 9/11.  They prosecuted 190 folks in these Article III courts, got convictions, and those folks are in maximum security prisons right now, and there have been no escapes. And it is a virtue of our system that we should be proud of," he said.

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"Keep in mind Richard Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after he was arrested under the previous administration. Some of the same critics of our approach have been employing this policy for years," he said.

While Obama said he had not ruled out New York City as a venue for Mohammad to be tried, he said the process of reading suspected terrorists their Miranda rights "should be reviewed."

"Let's put together teams that are in charge of the interrogation process because we want to make sure, priority number one, when these kinds of events happen, have we gotten all the information we need to ensure that there's not going to be any additional attacks."

On a more light-hearted note, the President said that although the Colts were the "favored team", he had a "soft spot" for the Saints.

"I think the Colts probably have to be favored, mainly because they've got perhaps the best quarterback in history. I mean, Peyton Manning is unbelievable. And they've got a team that has complete confidence in him. Everybody knows the system. There's enormous continuity with that team. So they are tough," he said.

But, he added, "I do have a soft spot in my heart for New Orleans, mainly because of what the city has gone through over these last several years, and I just know how much that team means to them. And I got to know Drew Brees when we shot a commercial for having kids get more active and get off the couch, and he's just a class act, terrific guy, wonderful family. But I would say that the Colts have to be favored."