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Two days ago, the President gave a press conference defending his $3.7 Trillion budget. As most of us have a busy life with our daily routines, work, taking care of our children, et al, it is sometimes difficult to make time to listen to a one hour Press Conference let alone listen to it during our down time. I usually scan though what is printed in the blogs or other publication to try to get the gist of things if I don't have time but this press conference was one not to be missed if you have missed it.
The President was on his "A" game comfortably and intelligently explaining many complicated concepts at ease while hitting the right notes to getting his message across quite flawlessly. I don't know about you but you've got to know your shit inside out to stand there for an hour and deliver a message to the nation when challenging questions are thrown at you left and right.
In all honesty, I enjoy seeing some members of the press core (Chuck Todd to mention just one) coming wagging their tails and the President sending them home with their tails between their legs. Check out the video and selective quotes on the budget, Egypt, Medicare, SS, Deficit and Debt below the fold.
First, I must say I am proud of my vote because I have a President that will not shy away from confronting problems, addressing the issues Americans are confronted with and tackling them in the most honest, intelligent and pragmatic manner. Before I go to some of the President's remarks, if anyone doubts that the President's budget is not leftist as some would like to suggest, I suggest a quick read of E.J. Dionne, Jr. article, Can Obama Be Luke Skywalker? because he nails it in the head clearly displaying the differences of the Republican number cutting game to trying to ensure Obama's Presidency agenda fails verse the President's cut some but invest in the future of America approach to ensuring a sustainable growth that will not slow the already beat up economy. Dionne, Jr. notes:
After Obama unveils his budget proposal on Monday, it will be hard to pretend anymore that the president and House Republicans even live in the same political galaxy, let alone have a chance of reaching lots of bipartisan agreements.
House GOP members are fixated not on specific programs or the purposes of government but on how big an arbitrary number measuring their budget cuts should be. The leadership offered an absurdly long list of cuts in the very narrow part of the domestic budget.
The bottom line is that House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., who had already come up with $74 billion in cuts, had to produce another $26 billion to reach the magic number of $100 billion that Republicans promised to take out of the budget in the 2010 campaign. Even that may not be enough. Why? Because his numbers included $16 billion in military savings that tea party members don’t recognize as part of the original promise, which was to come entirely out of non-security spending.
Well, it sure is going to be interesting to see how the Republican party is going have the audacity to build consensus considering that they have no plan on how to ensure progress without endangering the recovery because what they are trying to do is use a machete to trim down anything just to hit the $100 billion mark even if they have to shutdown the government. What they lack to understand is that shutting down the government means disrupting basic functions that is important to many Americans such as processing veterans payments, Unemployment checks, Social Security checks, et al. Better yet, Republicans seem to be more concerned with how they will cut funding from last year budget while the Administration is putting forward a plan for 2011.
In contrast, these are some of what the President has said during the press conference:
On the approach the President has taken towards the budget: Video @0:00:20 Mark
Just like every family in America, the federal government has to do two things at once: It has to live within its means while still investing in the future.
If you're a family trying to cut back, you might skip going out to dinner, you might put off a vacation, but you wouldn't want to sacrifice saving for your kids' college education or making key repairs on your house. So you cut back on what you can't afford to focus on what you can't do without.
And that's what we've done with this year's budget. When I took office, I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term. Our budget meets that pledge and puts us on a path to pay for what we spend by the middle of the decade.
The President noted his budget will freeze domestic discretionary spending over the next five years, cutting the deficit by $400 billion over the next decade, bring annual domestic spending to its lowest share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower, emphasizing less waste and more efficiency by getting rid of some 14,000 unneeded government office buildings, lots and government-owned properties, a cut in defense spending of about $78 billion, while strengthen Social Security for future generations without slashing benefits ensuring retirees safety net is indeed safe.
The pragmatist Obama on the Republicans - Video @0:03:40 Mark:
I recognize that there are going to be plenty of arguments in the months to come, and everybody's going to have to give a little bit. But when it comes to difficult choices about our budget and our priorities, we have found common ground before.
Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill came together to save Social Security.
Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress eventually found a way to settle their differences and balance the budget.
And many Democrats and Republicans in Congress today came together in December to pass a tax cut that has made Americans' paychecks a little bigger this year and will spur on additional economic growth this year.
So I believe we can find this common ground, but we're going to have to work. And we owe the American people a government that lives within its means while still investing in our future, in areas like education, innovation and infrastructure, that will help us attract new jobs and businesses to our shores.
On SS, Medicare and Medicare - Video @0:06:40
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The truth is, Social Security is not the huge contributor to the deficit that the other two entitlements are. I'm confident we can get Social Security done in the same way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were able to get it done: by parties coming together, making some modest adjustments. I think we can avoid slashing benefits, and I think we can make it stable and stronger for not only this generation, but for the next generation.
Medicare and Medicaid are huge problems because health care costs are rising even as the population is getting older. And so what I've said is that I'm prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to start dealing with that in a serious way.
We made a down payment on that with health care reform last year. That's part of what health care reform was about.
The projected deficits are going to be about $250 billion lower over the next 10 years than they otherwise would have been because of health care reform, and they'll be $1 trillion lower than they otherwise would have been if we hadn't done health care reform for the following decade. But we're still going to have to do more.
On Egypt and the Situation in the Middle East - Video @0:10:10
But so far at least, we're seeing the right signals coming out of Egypt.
There are ramifications, though, throughout the region. And I think my administration's approach is the approach that gibes with how most Americans think about this region, which is that each country is different, each country has its own traditions, America can't dictate how they run their societies.
But there are certain universal principles that we adhere to. One of them is, we don't believe in violence as a way of -- and coercion as a way of maintaining control.
And so we think it's very important that in all the protests that we're seeing in -- throughout the region -- that governments respond to peaceful protesters peacefully.
The second principle that we believe in strongly is in the right to express your opinions, in the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, that allows people to share their grievances with the government and to express themselves in ways that hopefully will, over time, meet their -- meet their needs.
More on Egypt - Video @0:43:40
without revisiting all the events over the last three weeks, I think history will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt that we were on the right side of history.
What we didn't do was pretend that we could dictate the outcome in Egypt, because we can't. So we were very mindful that it was important for this to remain an Egyptian event, that the United States did not become the issue, but that we sent out a very clear message that we believed in an orderly transition, a meaningful transition, and a transition that needed to happen not later but sooner.
And we were consistent on that message throughout. So, you know, particularly if you -- if you look at my statements, I started talking about reform two weeks or two and a half weeks before Mr. Mubarak ultimately stepped down.
And I would suggest that, you know, part of the test is that what we ended up seeing was a peaceful transition, relatively little violence, and relatively little, if any, anti-American sentiment or anti-Israel sentiment or anti-Western sentiment.
And I think that testifies to the fact that in a complicated situation, we -- we got it about right.
Interesting Q&A on the Deficit and Debt - Video @ 0:18:00
We still have all this accumulated debt as a consequence of the recession and as a consequence of a series of decisions that were made over the last decade. We've piled up -- we've racked up a whole bunch of debt. And there's a lot of interest on that debt.
So in the same way that if you've got a credit card and you've got a big balance, you may not be adding to principal; you've still got all that interest that you've got to pay. Well, we've got a big problem in terms of accumulated interest that we're paying and that's why we're going to have to whittle down furthers the debt that's already been accumulated. So that's problem number one.
And problem number two we already talked about, which is rising health care costs and programs like Medicaid and Medicare are going to, once you get past this decade, going to start zooming up again as a consequence of the population getting older and health care costs going up more rapidly than incomes and wages and revenues are going up. So you've got those two big problems.
Talking down the likes of Chuck Todd - video @ 0:21:50
Now, part of the challenge here is that this town -- let's face it, you guys are pretty impatient. If something doesn't happen today, then the assumption is it's just not going to happen, all right?
I've had this conversation for the last two years about every single issue that we've worked on, whether it was health care or "don't ask/don't tell."
On Egypt -- right? -- we've had this monumental change over the last three weeks. Well, why didn't -- why did it take three weeks?
So -- so I think that there's a tendency for us to assume that if it didn't happen today, it's not going to happen.
Regarding the misunderstood Obama's approach to cutting programs - community service block grants, Pell Grants, heating oil assistance and freezing salaries of federal workers. - video @ 0:30:32
[Addressing Pell Grant]
Let me use Pell Grants as an example of -- of how we're approaching these difficult budget choices in a way that is sustainable, but preserves our core commitment to expanding opportunity.
When I came into office, I said I want to -- I want to once again have America have the highest graduation rates -- college graduation rates of any country in the world; that we had been slipping. And so I significantly increased the Pell Grant program by tens of billions of dollars. And so millions of young people are going to have opportunities through the Pell Grant program that they didn't before and the size of the Pell Grant itself went up.
What we also did -- partly because we were in a recessionary situation, and so more people were having to go back to school, as opposed to work, what we also did was, for example, say that you can get Pell Grants for summer school.
Now, we're in a budget crunch. The take-up rate on the Pell Grant program has skyrocketed. The costs have gone up significantly. If we continue on this pace, sooner or later what's going to happen is we're just going to have to chop off eligibility. We're just going to have to say that's it, we can't -- we can't do this anymore; it's too expensive.
So instead what we did was how do we trim -- how do we take a scalpel to the Pell Grant program; make sure that we keep the increase for each Pell Grant, make sure that the young people who are being served by the Pell Grant program are still being served, but, for example, on the summer school thing, let's eliminate that.
The President feeling the pains of Americans - video @ 0:36:12
You know, I -- somebody is doing a book about the 10 letters that I get every day, and they came by to talk to me yesterday. And they said, you know, "What's the overwhelming impression that you get when you read these 10 letters a day?" And what I told them is I'm so inspired by the strength and resilience of the American people.
But sometimes I'm also just frustrated by the number of people out there who are struggling and, you know, you want to help every single one individually.
And I -- you know, you almost feel like you want to be a case worker and just start picking up the phone and advocating for each of these people who are working hard, trying to do right by their families. Oftentimes through no fault of their own they've had a tough time, particularly over these last couple of years.
So, yeah, it -- it's frustrating.
But my job is to make sure that we're focused over the long term. Where is it that we need to go? And the most important thing I can do as president is make sure that we're living within our means, getting a budget that is sustainable, investing in the future and growing the economy.
If I do that, then that's probably the most help I can give to the most number of people.
A corporatist asking about the proposed tax increases impact on Jobs creation - @ 0:49:20:
if you look at that budget, there's a whole bunch of stuff in there for job creation. I think some folks noted, for example, our infrastructure proposals, which would create millions of jobs around the country. Our investments in research and development and clean energy have the potential for creating job growth in, you know, industries of the future.
You know, my belief that the high-end tax cuts for -- or the Bush tax cuts for the high end of the population, folks like me -- my belief is that that doesn't in any way impede job growth. And most economists agree.
You know, we had this debate in December. Now, we compromised in order to achieve an overall package that reduced taxes for all Americans.
And so I believe -- I continue to believe that was a smart compromise.
But when it comes to over the long term maintaining tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, when that will mean additional deficits of a trillion dollars, you know, if you're serious about deficit reduction, you don't do that.
And -- and as I said, you know, I think most economists, even ones that tend to lean to the right or more conservative, would agree that that's not -- that's not the best way for us to -- to approach deficit reduction and debt reduction.
So I -- I do think it's important, as we think about corporate tax reform, as we think about individual tax reform, to try to keep taxes as simple as possible and as low as possible. But we also have to acknowledge that, in the same way that families have to pay for what they buy, well, government has to pay for what it buys.
All in all, the Obama budget is balanced in cutting spending and increasing investment in a much needed areas of infrastructure, innovation and R&D while cutting the deficit by $1 trillion over the next ten years. Further, if you read the article at The Reid Report, The Obama budget: truth or dare, you will learn a great deal about the three memes or storyline that are totally bogus:
1. "The Obama budget “goes after students, minorities, and the poor” meme:
While the Pell Grant cut provided for some tough early headlines for the White House, more sober assessments are proving the proposal to be less horrible than advertised. The Pell proposal would leave in place the full $5,500 a year cap for students (Republicans would prefer to slash that amount) while eliminating the second available grant students could get in the same year for summer courses. The summer Pell grant happens to be the one most often used by students at for-profit schools (ie the University of Phoenix.) The administration admits that their Pell proposal would mostly impact the for profit schools, which many people have criticized for taking students for a ride on the federal dime. Currently, the for-profit school industry is engaged in a knock-down, drag-out lobbying push to preserve a number of subsidies the Obama administration is looking to cut loose.
2. "It doesn’t go far enough to cut the deficit" meme
First off, it’s important to remember that the president’s budget is just the opening salvo of a very long, involved process that involves three parties: the president, the House of Representatives, now controlled by the GOP, and the place where all appropriations begin, and the Democratic-controlled Senate. As an opening bid, the highly respected Center on Budget and Policy Priorities gives the Obama budget proposal a good review, particularly since it actually does cut the deficit.
3. It “punts” on entitlements meme:
..[The Administration] sees discretionary spending and the deficit issue as immediate, but Social Security in particular as a long term issue. That’s important, because the fear mongering from both elected and media people on the right has been to paint Social Security as in immediate, dire need of cutting. That’s convenient to say if, like most Republicans, you want to slash Social Security and Medicare anyway, because philosophically, you’re opposed to the programs in the first place.
By decoupling Social Security from the budget debate, Obama has put that issue in the right context. Social Security has its own funding source, and so really shouldn’t be a part of that debate. Medicare is another matter, and it does indeed face a cost crisis. But it wouldn’t profit the president to put himself out front proposing cuts to cherished programs of America’s seniors and baby boomers, just before an election year. (And don’t think Republicans don’t know that, which is why they’re loathe to give specifics on their own plans for “entitlement reform”, but are practically demanding the president go first.)
If the Republican Party wants to go after those programs — and they do — politically, the right thing to do is to let them do it themselves.
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Informed Citizenry: Progressive Analysis, Commentary and Rants
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