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

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, Steve. Steve, that's just not the case. What happened was that they made overtures, where they were willing to raise about $200 billion in exchange for $2 trillion or so worth of cuts of core programs like Medicare that seniors depend on for their security in their golden years. And what I said to them was, "A balanced approach means exactly what it says. It means it's balanced." I would love to see tax reform. And if we can get a commitment from the Republicans that they want to work on a serious tax reform package that makes sure that the wealthiest Americans are paying their fair share, that is simplifying the tax code, that is lowering rates, but by broadening the base, that's something I'm all for. It's part of my plan. But what we haven't seen is any serious movement on the other side. Let's take another example...

KROFT: Well, they say they're ready to do it. They say it's your insistence on raising the taxes to the wealthiest Americans, that you're fixated on that. And that there are other ways to raise revenue.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Steve, the math is the math. You can't lower rates and raise revenue, unless you're getting revenue from someplace else. Now, either it's coming from middle-class families or poor families or it's coming from folks like you and me that can afford to pay a little more. I mean, I think the average American understands that.

KROFT: The argument has been that if you reform the deduction process...

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The deductions mean home mortgages for middle-class families. The deductions mean things that a lot of people of modest means rely on. Now we can have a discussion about potentially reforming some of those deductions, but you can't get away from the basic concept that either we have a system in which the people who have benefited the most from this new economy -- by a magnitude of 200%-300% increases in their income. Either they're doing a little bit more or they're not.

I think they should. And this is not because I'm interested in punishing the rich. I want everybody to be rich, that's great. It has to do with the fact that the less I'm asking you or me to do, the more I'm asking somebody who's in a much tougher position to sacrifice. And that is basic math. I want to be very clear here, Steve. Democrats have moved significantly on a whole range of issues, in part, because of my leadership.

I went out there in August and I said, "We should take on entitlement reform," despite the fact that there were a lot of people in my party who felt that, "You know what, this is something we should preserve and we can beat Republicans over the head as trying to weaken Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid." And I said, "You know what? These are long-term programs that we need to fix. We need to make sure that they're sustainable for the future so that the next generation of seniors have them."

But in order to do that, we've got to start reducing health care costs. And I took a lot of heat for it. We haven't seen the equivalent willingness on the other side. And the bottom line is this: If there is a serious proposal out there that's balanced, I want to seize it. And I'm ready tomorrow to sign a bill that's balanced.

KROFT: Look, you gave up a lot. You said you wanted a balanced approach. You didn't get it. You cut a trillion dollars and set up the framework to cut another trillion plus and the Republicans gave up nothing. I mean, there are people in your own party who think that you were outmaneuvered. That you were stared down by [House Speaker] John Boehner and [Republican lobbyist] Grover Norquist and capitulated.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right. Steve, you've got to get your story straight, though. The first argument was that I don't compromise at all. Now you're saying I gave up too much.

KROFT: It seems to be all the compromising is being done by you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Both stories can't be true. Right? So I think what you'll see is that we were willing to make some tough cuts on programs, some of which I like and would like to see in place. But we can't afford them right now. So yes, we made some tough cuts. But that trillion dollars' worth of cuts were cuts that we had helped identify, that we were willing and prepared to make anyway.

And we did so partly because we think it is important to send a strong signal that we're serious about deficit reduction. But also because, in order for us to free up resources to do the things that will help us win the future -- like making sure, for example, that students have an easier time financing college -- it means we've got to get rid of some programs that don't work.