Rick Williams interviews President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON - October 9, 2013

Rick: There's a sentiment in the Philadelphia area that the president, members of Congress don't necessarily feel their pain, so to speak, because this shutdown has dragged on for so long. What assurances can you offer the people of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware that you are in touch with the devastating impact this shutdown has had on them?

President: First of all, it's having a devastating impact right here in Washington, D.C. including young members of my staff. I've got young people here who are expecting their first child and aren't sure whether they are going to be able to pay their mortgage. I've got folks who that get in a car accident and aren't sure they can pay the deductible because they don't know what their cash flow is going to be. I'm getting letters every single day, people who are just really getting squeezed.

Small business owners who are expecting business loans that have been suspended. People who are looking at housing assistance, that's been suspended. Folks who have lost their Head Start spots and don't know where their kids are going to be going the next morning.

I'm painfully aware of the difficulties and challenges this presents which is why, we shouldn't even be in this situation in the first place. It makes no sense.

Understand how this happened. I have said to Republicans and Democrats have said to Republicans, we're happy to negotiate and talk to you about anything, just don't shut down the government to try to get your way. Don't try to default on America's good credit to get your way and for some reason, Republicans have felt that this was leverage.

Originally, they thought it was going to be leverage for them to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and make sure that we repealed a program that is already providing healthcare to millions of people.

Rick: The people don't really care about the numbers, they just want to know that there is hope and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Is there a message of hope you can offer to the people of Philadelphia?

President: These things usually get worked out in the end, but we shouldn't have to go from crisis to crisis and this kind of brinkmanship to solve these problems.

I think everybody understands that I am somebody who by nature is looking for common ground and for compromise. To their credit, Democrats have already compromised significantly.

The bill that they passed in the Senate that would have kept the government open was actually a Republican bill. They took out the part about eliminating Obamacare, but otherwise they used the budget numbers that the Republicans preferred, not the ones that the Democrats preferred.

Democrats have bent over backwards to try to compromise, but there's a small faction, an extreme faction, in the Republican House right now that feels unless they get 100% of their way, they just as soon tear up the country. That is not how you and I operate, that's not how businesses operate, that's now how families operate, that's not how the people of the Philadelphia area expect their leaders to operate.

What we need to do right now, there's a very simple solution to this whole thing, Speaker of the House can simply call the bill that would reopen the government, make sure that we're paying our bills on time so America's credit continues to be sound, and then Democrats and Republicans can engage in the usual give and take and try to solve our problems the way they've always been solved.

Rick: Speaking of that give and take, for people who might not be familiar with the nuances of negotiation, some were saying this seems to be a political game of chicken, who blinks first. Is that simplistic, Mr. President, or is it a little bit more?

President: I think it's important for people to understand what this is about. There are real differences between Democrats and Republicans. I think we should fund early childhood education at higher levels than we're doing right now cause that can really help young people achieve and help those move up into the middle class.

I think it's important for us to make sure that we're rebuilding our infrastructure, our roads and bridges.

I think it is important for us to make sure we are investing in the basic science and research that helps us grow over the long term and that funding has been going down instead of up.

So we got differences, but if I'm not getting 100% of my way, I don't say 'well, I'm going to shut down the government.' We sit down at the table and we keep on talking until we solve the problem.

That's not the approach the Republicans, so far, at least, have been willing to take. The reason we're at this point was they figured instead of engaging in give and take and negotiating, what we can do is we can threaten a government shutdown, we can threaten American not paying its bills, and we'll then force the president to do exactly what we want as oppose to have to do anything of things he's interested in.

So that kind of hostage taking for ransom is something that is not how this system has ever worked and it's not the kind of precedent that I can allow because if it happens this time then it's going to be a habit. When Democrats are in charge of the House of Representatives and you've got a Republican president sitting here, there's nothing to stop Democrats from saying we won't open the government unless you institute background checks on guns, something we think is important.

Rick: We just talked basketball briefly, the clock is ticking, the ball is in your court, you're down by two, are you nervous, Mr. President, as that clock winds down and you're setting up for that three-pointer for the win?

President: First of all, what I would say is this is not a game, this is people's lives who are being impacted. Second of all, this is really something Congress can get done right now. I don't have a vote in Congress. I've told them very clearly what they need to do - reopen the government, make sure America's paying its bills, call that vote. As soon as that happens then we'll be in the normal negotiation process and we'll be able to sort out these problems.

Nobody is going to get 100% of what they want; that's the way this system is designed to work.

I'm less nervous for myself, I've run my last election. I am concerned about all of the people who are watching this program who are having a tough time and they spent the last four years digging their way out of the worst recession we've had since the Great Depression. The last thing they need is another crisis and another recession that is self-inflicted by members of Congress who are engaging in this kind of hostage taking.

Rick: In the few seconds I have left, you've said that America wants a government that works and if this government isn't working, with all due respect, Mr. President, how much blame should be placed on your shoulders?

President: Well, look, I think that as president I am always responsible for what happens around the country and around the world. That's both the great honor of being president and it's also the great challenge because there's a lot of stuff out there that takes place. I think Harry Truman once said a big part of my job is trying to get people to do what they're supposed be doing anyway.

In this situation, I will continue to work as hard as I can to make sure that Congress does what it's supposed to do.

It is certainly true, the Republican Party, right now, a big chunk of it, they see any compromise or negotiation with me as somehow a loss for them. I think John Boehner described it is as an unconditional surrender just to reopen the government.

Now, it's hard for me to understand why that would be. He said he didn't want a shutdown in the first place. I didn't want a shutdown. Well, on that, we should at least be able to agree, we should be able to reopen the government then we can talk about the things we don't agree about.

But I'm going to keep on reaching out to them. I've indicated to them that there's nothing that I won't talk about. If they've got concerns about the health care law or anything else, then we should be able to work things through, but we're not going to do it with a gun pointed at the heads of the American people. That's not a tactic that's acceptable, that's not how our Democracy can work.

Rick: Thank you Mr. President.

President: Really appreciate it.

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