One on one with President Obama

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Indianapolis - During the days leading up to the operation against Bin Laden, John Stehr sat down with President Obama for an exclusive one-on-one interview. They discussed serious issues facing Hoosiers everyday and in the future. The president explained the steps necessary to win votes in Indiana in 2012 as well as the pivotal role Hoosiers can play in curbing high gas prices.

Indiana gas prices are up a dollar per gallon from one year ago. As a short-term strategy, Obama said the government tries to make sure no one is getting gouged on prices. He said that his administration is trying to focus on medium and long-term solutions, including finding more sources of oil and increasing fuel efficiency.

"And then we are going to have to look at new technologies: electric cars, hybrids and Indiana's a car state, so a lot of this activity on advanced battery manufacturing, etc. can create jobs in Indiana, while also making us less reliant on foreign fuels and biofuels is the same thing," Obama said. "Well, Indiana, my home state Illinois, we produce a lot of crops that could be converted into ethanol; are being converted into ethanol, but we can also start looking at switch grass, wood chips and a whole bunch of other strategies and technologies that can make a difference while putting people to work."

Jobs and the economy

Included in his comments on energy was a way to create more jobs in Indiana. When the president took office in January of 2009, Indiana's unemployment rate was 9.9%. It has since fallen to 8.5% but the president said he wants it to come down further and not solely for re-election purposes.

"All I know is that as long as there is somebody out there who is looking for work, is able to work and can't find a job, then my job is not done and I've got to think about every strategy we can use," said Obama.

The president said that the most important strategy is the one that will get the nation's fiscal house in order. He proposes the spending cuts and tax hikes on wealthy Americans to reduce the federal debt by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. Republicans, meanwhile, say that the spending cuts don't go far enough and that the tax hikes go too far.

This spending debate has continued to hurt the president's approval rating in Indiana. He was the first Democrat to be elected in Indiana in 44 years and since his election he has lost several members of Congress in the state and the legislature is now Republican-controlled.

"I think the economy makes a big difference," Obama said. "If people in Indiana feel the economy is getting better, if they have a sense that the programs that we put in place, as tough as some of those decisions were, have actually paid off, then I think they will want to see me back for another term."

The president cited the auto industry as an example of Indiana's voting trends.

"You know, a good example is the auto industry. You will recall, that was a very unpopular decision when it was made. We now have all three big auto makers turning a profit. You see places like Kokomo and other areas that are part of the auto industry that are starting to rebound. We are not where we need to be, but if people feel like the general trend is strong, then I think we will be doing all right."

WTHR: "You came to Indiana 49 times in the last campaign. How many times can we expect to see you this time around?"

"I love being in Indiana; it's close to home and it's always healthy to get out of Washington, so my hope is, is that over the coming months, I'm going to be able to go out to Indiana; make a strong case for a balanced approached to our budget issues; making sure that we are living within our means; making sure that we are making investments that we need to win in the future, and that means investments in education, investments in things like clean energy and medical research. It means that we are going to have to continue to make progress in reducing health care costs and we can do that in a way that doesn't leave seniors out in the lurch the way that some proposals that have been proffered out there do. So we are going to have a lot to talk about over the next 18 months and I guarantee we are going to do some of that in Indiana."

Gov. Daniels

The president's political future could have more to do with Indiana than just campaigning here. Gov. Mitch Daniels is a possible opponent in 2012. Although the governor hasn't decided to run, it is clear that he is already on Obama's radar.

"It's a little early to start prognosticating. I'm going to let the Republicans sort out who they think their standard bearer should be. I think Gov. Daniels is a serious person. I have some significant philosophical differences with him, but I think it's important that whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, that you are constantly thinking about how can we find common ground to move the country forward. If there are areas that we can make progress together, then I hope we do that."

Sen. Lugar

While he was guarded in his praise for Daniels, the president was more effusive when talking about Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar.

WTHR: You have said that your respect [Sen. Lugar] in the past. He has said the same thing about you, but he seems to be the Republican leading the charge against your policy in Libya. What is it about this situation that he has wrong? 

"I think Senator Lugar would argue that we simply can't afford getting engaged or involved in the situation there. What I've said is, is that if we can prevent thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people from being killed and if we can do it as part of an international coalition, where the United States is not carrying the entire burden, but rather is just one part of a multi-national coalition, then it's worth us making that investment. But you know, this is a difficult question and this is a good example where there are going to be real disagreements in politics, including sometimes with folks in my own party, but people of goodwill, and I consider Dick Lugar one of those people, I think usually can figure out how we can disagree without being disagreeable and then still be able to make progress on those areas that we do overreact."

Super Bowl XLVI 

WTHR: What will you do in helping the NFL and their players reach an agreement so that game can be played?

"First of all, I haven't been in the new stadium. I've seen it from the outside and it looks spectacular. It would be fun to be able to go there," he said.

 WTHR: On behalf of the city, let me invite you to the game next year.

"As I said before, look, l'm a big football fan, but when I watch a bunch of owners, most of whom are billionaires, and a bunch of players, most of whom are millionaires, not be able to figure out how to split a $9 billion pot, then like most fans I get a little frustrated. I don't think the president of the United States, with all the things that I've got on my plate: creating jobs, dealing with high gas prices, dealing with places like Libya or making sure our troops are getting a sound mission when it comes to Afghanistan; with all that, I don't think I should have to intervene in terms of getting this football situation sorted out. I think what needs to happen is that the players and owners need to remember who puts that $9 billion in their pockets and it's the fans and make sure they are doing right by those fans and resolve their differences. Everybody is still going to be rich at the end of it and make sure that we get the Super Bowl in Indianapolis."

 Read John Stehr's blog about meeting the president.