Interview with President Obama: The full transcript

Steve Kroft questions the president on a wide range of critical topics, including his performance in office, the U.S. economy and unemployment, and the budget woes in Washington

And we ended up asking the wealthiest Americans to do a little bit more in terms of taxes. Going back to rates that would still be lower than they were under Ronald Reagan, our deficit problems would be solved. And I could not get Republicans to go ahead and say, "You're right. We're gonna put country ahead of party."

Now what I've said to them is, "That deal remains on the table. My offer to cooperate on a whole range of issues remains on the table. But I can't wait, because the American people can't wait. They need help right now. " And so what we've done, since this debt ceiling debacle, is to look at every single thing I can do through executive actions to go ahead and help provide some relief to middle-class families. So helping families to take advantage of low interest rates to refinance their homes, putting [a] couple extra thousand dollars in their pockets, helping students so that their debt burden when they come out of school is lower.

We're just gonna keep on looking for specific things that we can do without Congressional cooperation. But Steve, I would love nothing more than to have the Republicans say, "We're gonna be focused on trying to solve problems and not score political points." And the best example is the debate we're having right now around the payroll tax cut extension. This is a deal that we cut last year that every economist says we need to help sustain the recovery.

And traditionally, Republicans have tried to claim the mantle of being in favor of every tax cut. They never want to raise taxes. And yet, we have the prospect in 20-some days that 160 million Americans will see their taxes go up by an average of a thousand bucks. And yet, it's become a negotiation, where they think that in order for us to do something that's common sense and needed for our economy, that somehow they're doing me a favor. This isn't something you do for me.

We even had a Republican quoted in the newspapers yesterday, saying that "If we load up a whole bunch of additional stuff that Obama doesn't like, then maybe we'd pass the payroll tax -- and the more Obama doesn't like it, the more I like it." That attitude just drives people crazy.

KROFT: But have you stopped reaching out? Have you given up on the Republicans? Have you stopped reaching out to them? Are you just out there now trying to get your message across?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Every opportunity that I see for us to be able to actually get something done, I will seize. So we passed three trade agreements that the Republicans agreed to. And I lined up my party behind it, even though it wasn't popular in certain segments of my party. And that's a good example of any time we can see areas of potential cooperation, we want it desperately. Because my biggest incentive right now is to get this economy moving and put people back to work.

And I'll worry about the politics sometime next year. But right now, what I'm worrying about are the letters that I'm getting and the people I'm talking to every single day, who are working hard, have been working hard for five years, ten years, 20 years, and don't feel like they're getting ahead. And I want to make sure that we're doing right by them.

KROFT: There are people that think that you took a very hard line. That the Republicans weren't the only ones that were being intransient. That . . .

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's based off . . .

KROFT: Let's take the issue of tax reform. It seems to be an issue everybody's interested in right now. Your own Simpson-Bowles Commission, recommended a balanced approach, and they recommended big reforms in the tax system.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All for 'em.

KROFT: Cutting the basic rates, getting rid of deductions, and making the tax form simpler. The Republicans made a couple of overtures during those negotiations to raise revenues. And you didn't...