WASHINGTON -- Citing economic progress and other achievements, President Barack Obama on Friday rejected the contention that 2013 was the worst year of his presidency.
Polls show Obama's approval rating at record lows for the five years of his presidency, but he told reporters at a year-end news conference that his concern is whether things are getting better for the American people.
"If you're measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot through the course of my career," Obama said. "If I was interested in polling, I wouldn't have run for president."
Instead, the President cited continuing economic growth after the recession he inherited when he took office in January 2009 and other progress such as what he said was more than 1 million people signing up for health insurance under the controversial reforms he championed.
"That is a big deal. That's why I ran for this office," Obama said.
He acknowledged the botched rollout of the HealthCare.gov website in October caused "great frustration," but Obama rejected Republican claims that the overall reform law passed in 2010 was failing and should be dismantled.
Another frustration cited by the President was the inability to get any of his main legislative priorities of 2013 passed by Congress, and he called for 2014 to be a "year of action" on immigration reform, job creation, expanded background checks on gun purchasers and extending long-term unemployment benefits.
"We head into next year with an economy that's stronger than it was at the start of the year," Obama said. "I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America."
Noting a compromise budget agreement recently passed by Congress after two years of partisan impasses on government spending, Obama said that "it's probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship, but it's fair to say we're not condemned to endless gridlock" that led to the 16-day government shutdown in October.
Asked about the next big fiscal decision to be made by Congress early next year, Obama again repeated his position that he will not negotiate with lawmakers -- especially Congressional Republicans -- over raising the nation's debt ceiling.
"No, we're not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued," he said. "It is not a negotiating tool."
Obama also said he would make "a pretty definitive" decision in January on recommendations from an independent panel this week calling for changes in National Security Agency surveillance to protect civil liberties.
He defended government collection of electronic communications revealed through leaks from Edward Snowden. But the President added that "what is also clear from the public debate, people are concerned about the possibility of abuse."
He acknowledged American trust in NSA spying "has been diminished" but he added "what's going to be important is to build that up," referring to that confidence.
He said U.S. citizens are concerned about their phone calls being listened to.
"This is only going to work if the American people have confidence and trust," he said. "Yes, these are tough problems that I am glad that I have the privilege to tackle."
Obama said there has been no alleged instances of the NSA acting inappropriately in the use of data.
The President says he has confidence that the NSA is "not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around."
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