Obama Hopes 2014 Is ‘Breakthrough Year’
Citing progress on the economy, President Barack Obama said at his annual year-end news conference Friday that 2014 "can be a breakthrough year for America" after a long era of recession and slow recovery.
Praising Congress for a recent, relatively modest budget compromise, the president said, "It's probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship. But it's also fair to say we're not condemned to endless gridlock."
Obama spoke from the White House briefing room podium as he concluded his fifth year in office. He and his family were departing later in the day for their holiday vacation in Hawaii.
Asked if this year had been the worst of his presidency so far, he laughed and said, "That's not how I think about it."
Obama's polls are at or near the low point of his tenure in the White House. The rollout of his health care website bombed, and high-visibility parts of his agenda have yet to make it through Congress, including a call for gun safety legislation in the wake of the shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school a year ago and a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws.
"If you're measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot over the course of my career," he said, and then repeated that the economy was finally showing significant progress.
The president fielded questions a few hours after the government announced the economy grew at a solid 4.1 percent annual rate from July through September, the fastest pace since late 2011 and significantly higher than previously believed.
Much of the upward revision came from stronger consumer spending at a time when unemployment is at a five-year low of 7 percent. Obama did not mention it, but the stock market is also at or near record levels.
In his review of the year, Obama also noted that U.S. combat troops will finally be withdrawn from Afghanistan during the coming year.
As he has before, he promised to speak in more comprehensive terms in the near future about the future of NSA surveillance programs.
"I have confidence that the NSA is not investigating in domestic surveillance or snooping around," he said.
Yet he added, "we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence."
A presidential advisory panel this week recommended sweeping changes to government surveillance, including limiting the bulk collection of Americans' phone records by stripping the NSA of its ability to store the data in its own facilities.
Separately, a federal judge ruled earlier in the week that some of the NSA's activities were likely unconstitutional. Judge Richard Leon called the NSA's operation "Orwellian" in scope and said there was little evidence that its vast trove of data from American users had prevented a terrorist attack.
Obama was challenged on his 6-month-old statement that he and his administration had gotten the balance about right, in terms of the NSA's activities, between concern for terrorism and protection of civil liberties.
He replied that the same assessments are made on a daily basis and noted pointedly that if an attack were to occur, "the question that's coming from you is, 'Mr. President, why did you slip?'"