POSTED: 4:23 a.m. HST, Aug 1, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:06 a.m. HST, Aug 1, 2011
WASHINGTON >> Looks like President Barack Obama may get his 50th birthday bash after all.
Obama turns 50 on Thursday, two days after the deadline for the White House and Congress to agree on a plan to keep paying the nation's bills or risk a potentially calamitous financial default.
"What I really want right now is to, to get a debt-ceiling deal for my birthday," Obama told NPR.
The months long debate over government borrowing — Obama said it's been "taking up all the oxygen in the room" — threatened to force him to skip his own party. But an early birthday present arrived Sunday when he and the leaders of the House and Senate signed off on a long-sought deal.
Assuming it clears Congress and Obama signs the deal before Tuesday's deadline, the president planned a quick trip home to Chicago for a pair of birthday fundraisers the following evening, including a concert with Chicago natives Herbie Hancock and Jennifer Hudson and the local group OK Go.
"I feel real good about 5-0," he said. "I've gotten a little grayer since I took this job, but otherwise, I feel pretty good."
Obama added that his wife, Michelle, has told him that she still thinks "I'm cute."
"And I guess that's, that's all that matters, isn't?" he said.
Born on Aug. 4, 1961, near the end of the baby boom years of 1946-1964, Obama is joining more than 4.5 million other boomers who are turning 50 this year, according to AARP, citing U.S. Census figures.
"Now I'm gray," he says at campaign fundraisers. "I've got dings and dents," an apparent reference to the bruising policy disputes he's had with a politically divided Congress, including over borrowing the money the government needs to keep paying its bills.
He told reporters at a White House news conference in mid-July that he was turning 50 in a week; his birthday actually was still three weeks away.
"So I'm starting to think a little bit more about Medicare eligibility," Obama said. "I'm going to get my AARP card soon — and the discounts." Not that he needs them. He has made millions from a best-selling memoir and earns $400,000 a year for running the country.
After meeting last week with four African presidents whose countries have marked 50 years of independence, Obama joked that "I'm also celebrating my 50th of at least existence."
The gray hair sprouting from Obama's temples is about the only obvious sign of aging.
The 6-foot-1 president is as lanky as he was when he took office. He's gained no noticeable amount of weight despite a level of job stress that would send most people to the refrigerator for relief on a nightly basis. He has stuck to a regimen of near daily exercise that includes treadmill runs, weight lifting and weekend games of pickup basketball, golf or substitute coaching daughter Sasha's basketball team.
"Many of you knew me before I had gray hair," Obama jokes at campaign fundraisers. He halted most travel in July, including fundraising trips, due to the tense and intense negotiations with Congress.
Of the gray hair, he says: "Malia and Sasha say it makes me look distinguished. Michelle says it makes me look old." The first lady also talks about seeing the "worry creasing his face."
Obama is due for another medical checkup soon. After his first exam in early 2010, doctors declared him in excellent health and noted a borderline high cholesterol level of 209 that suggested room for improvement in his diet.
The president has a habit of sampling local greasy-spoon delicacies — whether it's burgers, chili dogs, pastries, or all of them — on trips outside of Washington. He once said he and the first lady would have to figure out how to resist ordering the White House pastry chef's pie every night "because whatever pie you like, he will make it and it will be the best pie you have ever eaten."
He also finally quit smoking, the first lady said.
Obama is the third U.S. president who belongs to the post-World War II baby boom generation, a population of more than 76 million. Bill Clinton was the first, followed by George W. Bush.
Obama was expected to spend his actual birthday, Thursday, in Washington. But other than a work day full of meetings, the White House hasn't said how he and his family plan to celebrate.
Besides the birthday fundraisers at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom, Obama's re-election campaign is planning hundreds of house parties around the country. It also has asked supporters to each recruit 50 new supporters for the president's birthday.