Obama: We screwed it up
President Barack Obama has shrugged off his deep dip in polling among the American people, telling a year-end news conference, "we screwed it up" in launching his health care overhaul but saying the country is poised in the coming year "to do very good things".
With his standing in the polls at or near record lows, Obama acknowledged frustration that his legislative goals had been largely crushed by Republicans in Congress. But he said he takes satisfaction that "we've got several million people who are going to have health insurance".
On the revelations by former contractor Edward Snowden about National Security Agency collection of data about Americans' communications, the president said he was preparing "a pretty definitive statement about this in January".
The revelations, Obama said, had shaken the "confidence and trust" of some Americans, causing them to worry that their privacy was no longer secure. He insisted that the NSA was not doing anything contrary to US law but that he felt NSA programmes might need to be changed to restore the trust citizens have in their government's security operations.
One reform could be to stop the practice of government storing phone records for five years and shift that storage to phone companies.
"I have confidence that the NSA is not engaged in domestic surveillance or snooping around," Obama said, but added, "we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence".
He did not address a federal judge's ruling earlier in the week that some of the NSA's activities were likely unconstitutional. Judge Richard Leon called the NSA's operation "Orwellian" in scope and said there was little evidence that its vast trove of data from American users had prevented a terrorist attack.
Despite his fall in the polls, Obama appeared confident and relaxed as he looked forward to a Friday departure with his family for his traditional Christmas season vacation in Hawaii, where he was born.
Obama championed the improving economy and said next year "can be a breakthrough year for America" after a long season of recession and slow recovery.
The president fielded questions a few hours after the government announced the economy grew at a solid 4.1 per cent annual rate from July through September, the fastest pace since late 2011 and significantly higher than previously believed.
The president praised Congress for a recent, relatively modest budget compromise, saying, "It's probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship. But it's also fair to say we're not condemned to endless gridlock".
He renewed his long-standing refusal to negotiate concessions with Republicans in exchange for legislation that will be needed in coming months to raise the nation's debt limit. "It is not something that is a negotiating tool. It's not leverage. It's a responsibility of Congress," he said.
Asked if this year had been the worst of his presidency, Obama laughed and said: "That's not how I think about it."
High-visibility parts of his agenda have yet to make it through Congress, including a call for gun safety legislation in the wake of a major school shooting a year ago and a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws.
In his review of the year, Obama also noted that US combat troops finally will be withdrawn from Afghanistan during the coming year.