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Obama's 50th Birthday Wish

The President discusses Medicare and the gift he wants for you

Big 5-0: Barack Obama

President Obama talks about money matters on the minds of older Americans. — Illustration by Sean McCabe; Photo by Martin H. Simon/Corbis

En español | Give him this: President Obama is a cool operator. When we met with him in April, he was secretly planning what would become a defining moment of his presidency: the deadly assault on Osama bin Laden. On this day, however, our conversation focused on domestic battles — including the war over entitlements for seniors — and, yes, how he deals with stress.

See also: JFK, Obama: Parallel challenges.

You're hitting the Big 5-0 on August 4. What's the best and worst thing you can say about that?

The worst thing is, I don't feel I'm as fast as I used to be. And I heal up slower on the basketball court. The wonderful thing is, I've been able to maintain my health pretty well. Also, I'm old enough where hopefully I've made enough mistakes I'm not going to repeat. And I'm still young enough that I can appreciate that wisdom.

Is a big celebration in the works?

Last year, on my 49th, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and all these other All-Star players came and played a pickup game with a bunch of my friends and me. Had a wonderful time. It'll be hard to top that. But I suspect the girls may have something planned.

Speaking of your daughters, do you hope their generation will experience aging differently than yours or your grandparents'?

It's already changed for my generation. When my grandparents were in their 50s, they were already "older." They drank, they smoked, they didn't exercise, they ate all kinds of stuff. And so they were already slowing down pretty good. Now I have friends who are 65 and 70 who are in better shape than my grandparents were when I was a kid. Americans want to be judged by their capacities, their interests, their curiosity, their imaginations, and not just by a number. I do want to make sure that when Malia and Sasha are entering their 50s, we still have the security of Social Security. Of Medicare. That we have maintained our commitment to people having basic security if things don't go well in their later years.

Yet in the debate over the deficit, people criticize "greedy geezers" for caring only about their entitlements. Is there any truth to that?

Well, seniors have paid into Social Security. They've paid into Medicare over a lifetime of hard work. And the notion that somehow they are asking for something that they don't deserve makes no sense to me. They're also under severe stress from the rise in things like gas prices, food prices, and home heating-oil prices. And if you're on a fixed income and the inflation rates on things like that are going up faster than your income, you have reason to worry. But I also think that older Americans don't want to leave huge debts to their kids and their grandkids in the form of massive deficits. That's why it's been important to reform the health care system, which is different from simply lopping off benefits under Medicare.

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