Barack Obama defends his birthday "gift"

Obama reelection
Barack Obama attends a fundraiser on the eve of his 50th birthday, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in Chicago.
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

President Obama got what he wanted for his birthday, but by his own admission, it wasn't as spectacular as one would hope for.

Back in June, the president told NPR that what he really wanted for his 50th birthday was a debt ceiling deal. He got that gift, of course, just two days ahead of his birthday today. But at a fundraiser that doubled as a birthday celebration last night, the president acknowledged that few are happy with the way the deal was reached.

"Obviously, we've just gone through an extraordinary week in Washington, an extraordinary two weeks in Washington," he told a group of 100 wealthy supporters the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. "It's not the kind of extraordinary the American people are looking for."

Mr. Obama defended the debt package as "responsible" in paying down the national debt and added that it's "not going to dismantle our social safety net." He also took a jab at Republicans, remarking, "I give the other side credit. They are single-minded in their focus in wanting to cut programs and shrink government."

The president's fundraiser was his first in a month, after he put his campaigning on hold to deal with the debate over raising the debt limit. The 100 supporters who attended the dinner donated as much as $35,800 for tickets, while about 2,400 other donors -- some donning cone-shaped birthday hats with the Obama campaign logo on them -- paid a minimum of $50 to attend a larger event. The party-goers were entertained by the likes of musicians Jennifer Hudson and Herbie Hancock and the band OK Go.


While the debate over the debt limit may have discouraged his supporters, particularly progressives, the president said during his fundraising events that the struggle proved just how important the next election is.

"We've already seen over the last week just how different the two visions are in terms of which direction we should take the country," Mr. Obama said in a video teleconference with supporters. "This is really important moment in our history."

The 2012 election, he said, "in some ways may be more important than the last one."

In the future, Mr. Obama said, he wants to take on immigration, energy policy, tax reform, and continue to work on building up the economy and reducing the deficit and debt in a responsible way.

While wrapping up the debt deal must have been a relief to the president, he told his supporters Wednesday that he couldn't have had a better birthday present than spending the night in Chicago.

"It's true that I turn 50 tomorrow," he said, adding that by the time he wakes up tomorrow he expects an email from AARP "asking me to call President Obama and tell him to protect Medicare."

Today, the president has a quiet public schedule, but privately he'll have two birthday celebrations. First, his senior staff will hold a toast for the president in the White House Blue Room today. In the evening, Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle are hosting White House Rose Garden party for some of their friends, which the Obamas are paying for themselves, reports the Chicago Sun Times' Lynn Sweet.

Even if the debt deal has left the president feeling weary at age 50, he can take comfort in knowing he's still the 5th youngest president, according to CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller. He took office at 47 years old. The youngest ever president was Teddy Roosevelt, who took office at 42.

Obama, staff toast debt deal with burgers
Obama to Chicago for 50th birthday fundraiser
Photos: Obama on the campaign trail

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