Transcript: President Obama

60 Minutes' Steve Kroft Interviewed President Barack Obama on Friday, Sept. 11, 2009

On Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed President Barack Obama in the Blue Room of the White House. The interview took place just days after the president addressed a joint session of Congress about his health-care plan and at a crucial moment in Obama's young presidency. Below is a transcript of much of that interview.

STEVE KROFT: What were you specifically hoping to accomplish with the speech this week?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think the most important thing was to make sure that American people understood the nature of the problem, what exactly I was proposing, to debunk some of the myths that had been floating around out there, and then to remind people that America can still do big things when we have to. When we've got big challenges ahead of us. So on the problem side of it, just making sure that people understand this is not just a problem of the 30 million American citizens without health insurance. It's also a problem for the hundreds of millions of folks who have insurance, because their costs are skyrocketing, their employers are undergoing enormous strain. It's a huge problem for our deficit. In fact it is the primary problem for our deficit. And it's making our businesses less competitive. So that was important.

The second I wanted to do was to make sure the people understood exactly what my plan does, which is to say, "If you've got insurance, we're not gonna legislate anything that would force you to change your doctor or change your plan." We are going to improve the stability and security of your plan by making sure that insurance companies can't eliminate you from a plan because of a preexisting condition. Can't impose arbitrary caps on the amount of costs of your care. Making sure that they are not using fine print to somehow increase your out-of-pocket expenses.

I want to make sure people understood that if you don't have health insurance or if you're a small business that wants to provide insurance to your employees, but just can't afford it right now -- because if you go into the market it costs you three times as much as big companies -- then you are going to be able to buy into an exchange, basically a marketplace, that gives you a range of options. And you will be able, because you're part of a bigger group, to get a better deal and save money. And for people who still can't afford it, we're going to provide you with a tax credit to give you some help so you can afford to buy it.

The third thing I wanted to do was to just disabuse some people of some crazy ideas. The notion that we've got death panels that would pull the plug on grandma. As I said before, that's a simple lie. The notion that we intend to cover illegal immigrants. I have said consistently that would be against the law, and so I'm going to repeat it here tonight. We are not going to be covering illegal immigrants. This notion that's been out there trying to scare seniors by saying somehow we're talking about cutting Medicare benefits. In fact this plan would strengthen Medicare and would help reduce the cost of prescription drugs for seniors by significant amounts.

And then the last thing I wanted to do was just remind people that, you know, anytime you try to do something big in Washington, there's gonna be controversy. Healthcare we've been debating since Theodore Roosevelt. But every time we've made progress, it's been because we've realized that the status quo was unsustainable, and somehow people of goodwill have come together after vigorous debate, sometimes angry debate, and gotten something done. And that's what happened in Social Security. You know, people said Social Security was a socialist program. Yet now it's the most important social program that we have to make sure that seniors are secure.

Said the same thing about Medicare. That this is going to be a government takeover of Medicare. Well, it turns out that if it weren't for Medicare, a lot of seniors out there would be completely out of luck. And so I wanted to provide a context to explain to people: it's always hard for us to make progress, but this is the right thing to do. Now is the time to do it.

KROFT: Before you made this speech, there was a sense clearly in the press and among people in Washington that this program was in trouble.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: That the healthcare reform was in trouble.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: Do you think that you do you think you changed some minds? Do you think you picked up some votes this week?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, here's a conversation I had with one of my advisors early on in this process. He said, "I've been in this town a long time. I think this is the year we're going to get healthcare done. But I guarantee you this will be pronounced dead at least four or five times before we finally get a bill passed." And so in some ways we anticipated this was just going to be difficult. Look, you're talking about one-sixth of the economy. You've got a whole range of special interests out there that are profiting from the current system and don't want to see it change. You've got a continuing habit of polarization inside of Washington that's hard to break.

And so we knew this was going to be hard. And I think what is true is that as Congress moves forward with all its legislation, the sausage making process got a lot of people confused. They didn't know which bill was which and what the program was. It was important for me to provide some clarity. And as a consequence of the speech that I gave, I think now more people understand what the bill's about. I think there's still going to be some vigorous debate. I think there's still a lot of hard work to get to get done. But I think at least it focused people's attention on why this is so important and what exactly we're trying to do.

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