'This Week' Transcript: Barack Obama

The president-elect sits down for an exclusive interview with George.

ByABC News
January 10, 2009, 3:11 PM

Jan. 11, 2009 — -- GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello, again. In nine days he will be president of the United States. This morning Barack Obama is our exclusive headliner. Welcome back to THIS WEEK.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Does it feel like you're president already?


STEPHANOPOULOS: This is on quite a pace.

OBAMA: All of those bells and whistles -- as much we are working hard in the next couple of weeks, I think that when you're actually in the Oval Office making decisions, I think that's going to be different.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, we asked our viewers what they wanted to hear from you, and we got hundreds of pages of questions, thousands of questions, almost all about the economy. And it's clear there's a lot of pain out there, a lot of fear. And if I could sum up the questions, it would be very simple, can you fix this?

OBAMA: I think we can fix this. But it's going to take some time. It's not going to happen overnight. And what we tried to do this week was, first of all, explain where we are in the economy. That the jobs numbers this week were terrible. That means we've lost 2.5 million last year. That's the most since World War II. You've got another 3.4 million people who have gone from full-time work to part-time work, or want full-time work. So the underemployment rate is extremely high. And, you know, whether it's retail sales, manufacturing, all of the indicators show that we are in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

And it's going to take some time to fix it. But what we tried to do was put forward a plan that says let's act boldly, let's act swiftly. Let's not only provide a jumpstart to the economy and immediately or save 3 million jobs, but let's also put a down payment on some of the structural problems that we have in our economy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It has been pretty well-received in the Congress. But you're getting some pushback as well, especially from Senate Democrats on the tax cut portions. Senator Tom Harkin said this is trickle down economics all over again. They're focused especially on the business taxes.

Do you really believe those business tax cuts are going to work to create jobs? Or do you put them in so you could get Republican votes?

OBAMA: Well, let's look at the package as a whole, the bulk of the package is direct government spending. And here are a few things we're going to do. We're going to alternative energy production. We are going to weatherize 2 million homes. We are going to create a much more efficient energy system.

And that's going to have enormous ramifications for the economy as a whole down the line. I think we can create a new green economy. And that's going to be one of the keys to the 21st Century. Health care, which is a drain on our economy, both families and businesses, we're going to make investments in information technology, update our systems work, reduce medical error, that's going to save people money.

Education, we want to create a classroom for the 21st Century for every child, as well as community colleges and public universities. So we're making a series of investments that point to the future as well as just dealing with rebuilding our roads, bridges, et cetera.

Now there is no doubt that that probably gives you the most bang for the buck in terms of stimulus, in terms of getting the economy started, putting people back to work. But there are only so many projects that you can do quickly of that sort.

And so then the question becomes, do tax cuts also provide a stimulus? Do they also help? And they may not help as much as some of the direct spending projects do, but they still provide a stimulus, especially if they are targeted towards people who are really in need.

And there are a lot of families hurting out there. So what we've done is design the bulk of our tax cuts…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you might give up on some of the business tax cuts?

OBAMA: Well, you know, there are a range of different business tax cuts that we proposed, that we looked at. Some of them, for example, accelerating the depreciation, accelerating the losses that can be

written off by businesses, it turns out those are short-term, temporary measures that actually can have an impact.

But our general philosophy, and I said this yesterday when I was asked at a press conference, is we don't have pride of authorship. There are a couple of basic principles that I laid out. We've got to move quickly. We've got to make sure that any investments that we make have good long-term benefits for the economy, not just short-term.

We can't set up a situation where we're adding to the structural deficit over the long-term. We can't have waste and abuse in it. We can't have earmarks in it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let's look at some…

OBAMA: But -- just to finish the point, if people have better ideas on certain provisions, if they say, you know, this is going to work better than that, then we welcome that. And so we're going to have a collaborative, consultative process with Congress over the next few days.

But what we can't do is get involved in the typical partisan wrangling or pet project, you know, bartering that takes place.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's what I wanted to ask you about, because like one of the signature proposals already is this Museum of Organized Crime out in Las Vegas. I had Mitch McConnell out on the show last week and he ridiculed it, saying that, you know, this is an example of the kind of pork we don't want.

Yet its advocates say, wait a second, it's a construction project, it's ready to go, it's going to create jobs. Is that the kind of project that you want to fund or not?

OBAMA: Well, let's be clear, that was a project that was proposed as part of the mayors' project. The country's mayors put together -- here are a range of projects we can do, we didn't include that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But would you want to fund it or not?

OBAMA: Well, I think that what we have to do is evaluate whether or not these are projects that, as I said, are going to provide long-term benefits to the economy. You know, I would prefer spending money on things like making sure that all federal buildings are energy efficient so the taxpayers are saving money over the long-term.

I want to make sure that on health care we are creating the infrastructure that can make our health care more -- system more efficient. So, you know, we want to spend the money wisely. We want to spend it prudently.

In a package of this magnitude, will there end up being certain projects that potentially don't meet that criteria of helping on health care, energy, or education? Certainly.

But what we don't want is this thing to be a Christmas tree loaded up with a whole bunch of pet projects that people have for their local communities.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I've heard that -- and your meetings on Capitol Hill, the one thing you've been most focused on is get this done now.


STEPHANOPOULOS: It has to be done...

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: … Presidents Day weekend.

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What happens if it's not?

OBAMA: Well, you know, then Congress was going to hear from me. And I was pleased to hear Nancy Pelosi say that if we don't get it done by the Presidents Day recess, we won't have a Presidents Day recess.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what's your fear?

OBAMA: Well, the concern is that in a non-emergency situation, Congress exercises all sorts of prerogatives. They've got all sorts of procedures. Everybody wants to be heard. And I'm respectful of that. I'm coming from the United States Senate. I understand why that is important.

And, you know, one of the things that we're trying to set a tone of is that, you know, Congress is a co-equal branch of government. We're not trying to jam anything down people's throats.

Here's what we know though, that the sooner a recovery and reinvestment package is in place, the sooner we can start turning the economy around. We can't afford three, four, five, six more months where we're losing half a million jobs per month.

And the estimates are that if we don't do anything, we could see 4 million jobs lost this year.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Another part of that is the financial rescue package.

OBAMA: Right.