Obama Hails ‘Season of Progress’ in Year-End News Conference

President Barack Obama said he expected a robust debate with Republicans on spending next year but was encouraged by the climate of compromise that led to a string of recent legislative victories.

President Barack Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 during a ceremony at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., Dec. 22, 2010. Photo: Chuck Kennedy/Official White House

President Barack Obama celebrated a bipartisan “season of progress” on Wednesday at a year-end news conference marking an up-and-down second year in office that blended a thrashing at the polls, slow progress on the economy and late victories in Congress.

Obama said accomplishments in the final days of the U.S. congressional session, and cooperation with opposition Republicans, raise hopes of getting more done for Americans in the new year.

He opened the year-end news conference with a reference to the nuclear arms control treaty with Russia that the Senate ratified earlier yesterday on a bipartisan vote.

The president called U.S. Senate ratification of the New START treaty a “powerful signal” to the world that Republicans and Democrats stand together when it comes to U.S. security. He said it will enhance cooperation with Moscow on issues such as sanctions against Iran and preventing terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The president, who also signed legislation earlier yesterday permitting gay members of the armed forces to serve openly, said he does not currently favor legalizing gay marriage.

“I struggle with this. I have friends, people who work for me who are in powerful, long standing gay or lesbian unions,” he said. “I have said that at this point my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them protection and legal rights.”

He also said these and other accomplishments in the “lame duck” session of Congress are proof that leaders in Washington are not “doomed to endless gridlock. This has been a season of progress for the American people.”

President Barack Obama shares a toast in the Oval Office with the members of his National Security Staff who worked on the New START nuclear arms control agreement, Dec. 22, 2010. Photo: Pete Souza/Official White House

“That progress is a reflection of the message that voters sent in November, a message that said it is time to find common ground on challenges facing our country. That’s a message that I will take to heart in the new year and I hope my Democratic and Republican friends will do the same,” he said.

Just after the November mid-term congressional elections, President Obama spoke about what he called the “shellacking” his Democratic party suffered at the hands of Republicans, who won control of the House of Representatives with a gain of 63 seats.

Obama has since made what many political analysts say has been a remarkable political comeback, one the White House hopes will help him during the next phase of his presidency on the way to the 2012 presidential election.

The president’s compromise with Republicans on extending lower tax rates, including those for wealthy Americans, subjected him to the wrath of far left Democrats. But he emerged in many respects looking stronger and more independent.

Obama voiced deep disappointment with lawmaker’s failure to approve the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants. He indicated he will continue to push for its approval in a new Congress.

The president predicted “tough fights” ahead as part of what he called a coming robust debate about cutting government spending and inefficient programs, while maintaining investments needed for economic recovery and long-term growth.

President Barack Obama holds a press conference in the South Court Auditorium, Dec. 22, 2010, Photo: Chuck Kennedy/Official White House

Looking ahead to next year when he will face a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a reduced majority in the Senate, the president said he hopes Democrats and Republicans can find enough common ground to help Americans.

“We don’t have to agree 100 percent to get things done that enhance the lives of families all across America. If we can sustain that spirit then regardless of how the politics play out in 2012, the American people will be better for it, and that is my ultimate goal,” he said.

Saying the U.S. economy is past the crisis point, Obama said again that his main focus in the next two years will be to bring down unemployment and ensuring the U.S. can be competitive.

Saying he shares the frustration of many Democrats over his tax deal with Republicans, the president said in the “long-run” the U.S. cannot afford “a series of tax breaks” for wealthier Americans, adding this would be part of a debate beginning when the new Congress convenes.

“I expect we’ll have a robust debate about this when we return from the holidays, a debate that will have to answer an increasingly urgent question and that is, how do we cut spending that we don’t need, while still making investments that we do need,” Obama said.

After Wednesday’s news conference, and as Congress concluded its work, President Obama left Washington for Hawaii where his wife Michelle and daughters, Sasha and Malia have already begun their holiday vacation.

Obama is expected to spend time going over drafts of the State of the Union Address he will deliver to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the new year. [White House via The Telegraph (UK), MS NBC and Washington Post]

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