Speaking during his annual end-of-the-year news conference, President Obama acknowledged the difficulties of 2013 while reiterating that there are plenty of reasons for him and the American people to be optimistic as 2014 approaches, predicting that it would be ”a breakthrough year for America,” the AP reports.
But Obama did comment on some of the glaring areas of criticism that have plagued the Obama administration this year. When it came to the widespread criticism surrounding the NSA’s power to collect information on Americans, Obama suggested that he may adjust the agency’s power and has collected the recommendations of members of a presidential task force regarding how to limit NSA programs.While Obama insisted that the NSA had not used the collected data in inappropriate ways, he explained, ”We may have to refine this further to give people more confidence.”
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked detailed documents of the agency’s data collection practices and is now living in Russia through temporary asylum, was also a topic of discussion. A fugitive of the U.S., Snowden is still seeking permanent asylum through several governments, but many supporters have called for Obama to provide Snowden with amnesty. But Obama remained noncommittal on the subject. ”I will leave it up to the courts and the attorney general to weigh in in public on Mr. Snowden’s case,” he said.
On the subject of HealthCare.gov, Obama admitted that the rollout had been disastrous and simply stated, “we screwed it up.” But Obama remained upbeat on the progress of the website, explaining that one million people have signed up for insurance in the exchanges since October 1 — a number that is 2.5 times the total amount on November 30, which seems to indicate that technical issues preventing Americans from signing up in the website’s early stages are beginning to be resolved.
Still, Obama doesn’t appear likely to sit on the issue. ”I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year,” he stated. It remains to be seen whether that means some high-level personnel changes will occur in 2014, but given the widespread calls for the ousting of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some high-profile firings in the near future.
However, the state of the economy is more than enough for Obama to be confident as 2014 approaches. From July through September, the economy grew at a 4.1 percent annual rate, which is both the fastest pace since late 2011 and higher than what was previously expected. And Obama also spearheaded a bipartisan budget deal that passed in Congress this week which, while modest, could indicate bipartisanship progress moving forward.
But as the AP notes, there are some significant hurdles that loom in the new year. Despite the bipartisan budget deal this week, democrats and republicans are locked into a battle over the nation’s debt limit that could get messy as republicans negotiate concessions in exchange for legislation. ”It is not something that is a negotiating tool. It’s not leverage. It’s a responsibility of Congress,” he said, although he added he was willing to discuss other issues separately,” Obama said.
There’s also the matter of foreign policy. On the subject of Iran, Obama stated that it wouldn’t make sense to impose new sanctions on Iran given the recent interim accords aimed at minimizing Iran’s nuclear program. Additionally, the Winter Olympics could cause some extra friction between the U.S. and Russia, where the event is being held, because of the U.S. decision to include openly gay athletes in the Olympic delegation. Russia, whose stringent anti-gay laws have been the subject of considerable international scorn in recent months and which also has a national law banning “gay propaganda,” is likely to take issue with the decision.