WASHINGTON — Putting a rosy spin on a difficult year, President Barack Obama acknowledged frustrating "ups and downs" on Friday but exulted that the improving economy is creating new jobs and claimed crucial progress for his troubled health care overhaul. He predicted 2014 would be "a breakthrough year for America."
In his annual year-end news conference, Obama declined to dwell on his tumbling approval ratings, the disastrous rollout of his signature health care law or the pile of unfinished domestic priorities as he heads for a Christmas holiday in Hawaii.
Asked whether this had been the worst year of his presidency so far, he laughed and said: "That's not how I think about it."
Yet not all was sunny. He did suggest that, given widespread criticism, he may alter the power of the National Security Agency to collect information on Americans.
And when it came to the start of his health care law, Obama conceded that "We screwed it up," and said, "I'm going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year." It was unclear if he meant to signal high-level personnel changes.
Obama does have some reason to be optimistic. He spoke hours after the government announced the economy grew at a solid 4.1 percent annual rate from July through September, the fastest pace since late 2011 and significantly higher than previously believed. He heralded the modest bipartisan budget deal that cleared Congress this week, saying that while it's too soon to declare a new era of bipartisanship, Washington is "not condemned to endless gridlock."
Obama heads to his annual home-state Hawaiian vacation armed with dozens of recommendations from a presidential task force on ways to limit the NSA programs. The recommendations were released just days after a federal judge declared the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records unconstitutional, ratcheting up pressure on him to make changes.
The president insisted that the NSA has not inappropriately used the massive amounts of data in its possession, though he added: "We may have to refine this further to give people more confidence."
• Renewed his long-standing statement that he will not negotiate concessions with Republicans in exchange for legislation that will be needed in late winter or early spring to raise the nation's debt limit.
• Said it would be wrong to impose new sanctions on Iran at a time when the United States and other nations are testing an interim accord designed to curtail Tehran's nuclear program.