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Obama Hails 'Season of Progress' in Year-End News Conference

President Obama speaks at year-end news conference, 22 Dec 2010
President Obama speaks at year-end news conference, 22 Dec 2010

President Barack Obama says 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.

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.

On Wednesday, Obama pointed to two other victories -- repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military, and the 71 to 26 U.S. Senate vote ratifying the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

He 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.  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.

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.

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.

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.

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.   

The importance of that speech has been elevated given the challenges the president faces with the U.S. economy, pursuing goals such as comprehensive immigration reform, and preparing Americans for the tough decisions he says will be needed to address the $1.3 trillion dollar federal government deficit, and nearly $14 trillion national debt.

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