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Obama's year-end press conference

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Hoping to get out of Dodge unscathed to start his Christmas vacation in Hawaii, 52-year-old President Barack Obama dodged some bullets fired at him by a feisty White House press corps. Saying that “we screwed it up,” Obama confessed to his inept Oct. 1 rollout of his health reform law, AKA Obamacare, where the healthcare.gov website malfunctioned. Boasting of signing up over 2 million subscribers, the president took his lumps when asked about the biggest lie of 2013: His promise to subscribers that they could keep their old policies and doctors. Instead of explaining that he can’t control the insurance industry, Barack had little to say in his defense. Thursday’s decision to allow cancelled subscribers to buy back “junk” or catastrophic insurance plans for one year forced Obama to eat crow. Obama wasn’t briefed enough to put the onus back on the insurance industry.

Laboring to tell the press that rolling out big government programs don’t happen easily, often taking time to work out the bugs, much like when former President George W. Bush’s rolled out of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan. “It’s probably to early too declare and outbreak of bipartisanship. But it’s also far to say were not condemned to endless gridlock,” said Obama, tongue-in-cheek. Noting the Dec. 18 bipartisan budget deal passed by the U.S. Senate, Obama didn’t mention how next year’s Midterm election affects GOP decision-making. Faced with discussions on the debt ceiling in early Spring, Obama said he wouldn’t negotiate with Republicans to fund legislation already passed by both houses of Congress. “It is not something that is a negotiating tool. It’s not leverage. It’s a responsibility of Congress,” said Barack, referring to another fight to raise the debt ceiling.

Dropping his approval ratings from last year’s 55% to this year’s 41%, Obama attributed it to the tough rollout of Obamacare. While the GOP hopes that they can milk the public’s frustrations about Obamacare through the Midterm elections, they’ve got tough sledding ahead. What GOP officials don’t like to hear is that the economy is doing well, something backed by a slew of government data showing the nation’s Gross Domestic Product jumping to 4.1% in the Third Quarter. Republicans fell on their swords in the 2012 presidential election precisely because the public saw the economy recovering. Saying that 2014 “can be a breakthrough year for America,” Obama touted what’s become obvious: The economy has done well under Obama. No matter how they’d like it otherwise, government data doesn’t lie, all published economic indicators point to steady economic growth in 2014.

Heading into 2014, the GOP can’t afford another destructive confrontation that potentially defaults the U.S. government. While there’s still fight in the GOP, certainly the Tea Party, House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) got his work cut out for him keeping conservatives from sabotaging the GOP. Starting another bruising fight over the debt-ceiling would no doubt harm Republicans heading into the Midterm elections. With the economy looking up, it’s difficult to make the same old arguments about austerity when unemployment continues to shrink together with federal budget deficits. Insisting on the current debt ceiling would require more slashing to the federal budget, something not favored by the nation’s leading economists, including 59-year-old retiring Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. Slashing the federal budget isn’t recommended by any reputable economist.

Obama side-stepped the flap over charged, arrested and bail-posted Indian envoy 39-year-old Nevyan Khobragade, accused to visa fraud by New York’s Southern District U.S. Atty. 45-year-old Punjab, India-born Preet Bharara. Threatening to upend U.S.-Indian relations, the subject wasn’t even discussed. Instead, the White House press corps seemed more interested in the Nov. 23 nuclear pact made between Iran and the so-called P5+1, the U.S., U.K, France, Russian, China and Germany. Barack insisted that the pact helped Israel and provided some containment of Iran’s nuclear program. Talking about the National Security Agency spying scandal that landed former Booz Allen Hamilton employee 30-year-old fugitive Eric Snowden in Russia, Obama his task force was working on allegations of inappropriate spying. “I have confidence that the NSA is not engaged in domestic surveillance or snooping around,” said Obama.

Looking in charge of the press conference, Obama handled pointed questions well, especially over his flagging approval ratings. “If you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have on up and down a lot over the course of my career,” said Barack, referring to the dip and rebound before the last presidential election. Obama’s GOP critics hope to ride the Obamacare problems to the Midterm elections, without really knowing whether or not the public will warm up to the program. As long as the Labor and Commerce Departments continue to hand Obama good news, it’s going to be difficult to argue against White House policies. With Wall Street at record highs, unemployment dipping to 7% and GDP rising in Q3 to 4.1%, it’s more difficult for the GOP to find a point of attack. Heading off to Waikiki, Obama can only smile that the big Kahuna in the sky is looking out for him.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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