Washington • Following is a transcript of AP reporter Ben Feller’s interview with President Barack Obama.
Question: Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity.
Obama: Good to see you.
Q. It’s good to see you again.
Let’s start with politics, of course. Mitt Romney is about to have the biggest political stage of his life at the Republican National Convention. What do you expect to hear from him, and how do you plan to counter it when you speak at your convention just a week later?
Obama: I suspect that we’ll hear at the Republican Convention what we’ve been seeing in the millions of dollars’ worth of ads that they’re running all throughout the country. And they basically have one message, which is, the economy is not where it should be and it’s Obama’s fault. And there will be variations on that theme.
But I think when voters step back, what they’re going to look at is who can move us forward. And we all understand that we just went through the worst recession and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. People understand the millions of jobs that were lost before I took office, the 800,000 jobs that we lost the month I was sworn in, and they recognize that we’ve started to see some progress — 4.5 million new jobs created in the private sector, half a million manufacturing jobs, saving the auto industry.
But they also understand that we’ve got to do more. And so the question is: What’s the recipe for long-term, sustained economic growth? And when they ask themselves that question, what they’ll see is the Republicans are essentially offering the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place.
Mitt Romney is proposing a $5 trillion tax cut that disproportionately goes to the wealthiest Americans. And he will pay for that by gutting investments in things like education, infrastructure, basic science and research, voucherizing Medicare — all to provide an average of $250,000 worth of tax breaks to people making $3 million a year or more.
And when you combine that with rolling back regulations that we put in place for reining in Wall Street, making sure we don’t go through the same kind of financial crisis we went through, when you look at Governor Romney’s proposal to roll back the Affordable Care Act — which would actually mean millions of young people would no longer have coverage who now do because they can stay on their parent’s plan, or seniors having to pay more for their prescription drugs — they’re going to be pretty skeptical of that argument.
And what we’re going to be offering — and have been offering — is a path forward that says balanced deficit-reduction, smart cuts in government programs that we can no longer afford, making sure that we’re eliminating waste and fraud in programs like Medicare, but still making sure that we’ve got our investments in education, our investments in science and technology, investments in clean energy research, asking folks like me — people who are in the top 1 or 2 percent — making sure that they’re paying a little bit more for a balanced deficit reduction plan but also a plan to ensure that our economy grows and that we’re building our middle class.
Q. Put yourself in the shoes of an undecided voter who says: I don’t have a job, I can’t pay my bills, my life isn’t better — my life isn’t better under President Obama. Why should that person vote for you?
Obama: Look, I hear from folks all the time who are still struggling. Even if they have a job, they are still having a tough time paying the bills. Their home may be underwater because of the housing bubble burst. They’re still worried about saving for their retirement.
And so I’m the first one to say that we’re not where we need to be. What I’d say to that voter, though, is who’s more likely to fight for middle-class families to make sure that they’ve got long-term security? Is it going to be Governor Romney and his proposals that mirror the kinds of proposals that got us into this mess in the first place — that led to some of the slowest growth we’ve ever seen, jobs being shipped overseas, middle-class wages and incomes declining — culminating in this disastrous economic crisis?
Or is it going to be a president who is interested in making sure that college is affordable for that voter’s kids, that is bringing manufacturing back, that is interested in creating jobs in the clean energy sector? And that’s the choice that I think that voter is going to be confronted with.
We aren’t where we need to be. Everybody agrees with that. But Governor Romney’s policies would make things worse for middle-class families and offer no prospect for long-term opportunity for those striving to get into the middle class. And the policies I’m offering are ones that have been proven in the past to help middle-class families achieve their dreams.
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