Obama Tries To Sell 2012 Budget

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President Barack Obama held a news conference Tuesday to fend off criticism of his new 2012 budget.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

One day after presenting his budget to Congress, President Obama held a press conference to sell it to the American people. It was a chance for the president to show how serious he is about cutting spending and about finding compromise with Republicans.

NPR's Mara Liasson was at the press conference.

MARA LIASSON: Mr. Obama wants to convince voters that his budget cuts are deep enough to answer their desire for progress on the deficit, but not so deep as to endanger their other top concern, the economy. While the Republicans are setting up a debate about whose cuts are deeper, the president was framing an argument about whose cuts were better and he singled out a proposed Republican cut to infant formula for poor kids.

President BARACK OBAMA: Now, is that who we are as a people? I mean, we're going to have to have those debates. Particularly if it turns out that making those cuts doesn't really make a big dent in the long term debt and deficits.

LIASSON: As for the long-term deficits, the president was eager to answer the criticism that his budget had punted, that he had failed to provide leadership on dealing with the biggest drivers of the long-term debt - entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Pres. OBAMA: I was glad to see yesterday Republican leaders say, how come he didn't talk about entitlements? I think that's progress because what we had been hearing made it sound as if we just slash deeper on education or, you know, other provisions in domestic spending that somehow that alone was going to solve the problem.

LIASSON: For the first time, the president said he agreed with many of the recommendations from his own bipartisan fiscal commission and he praised the commission for providing a framework for solving the long-term fiscal crisis.

Pres. OBAMA: And that's going to require entitlement reform and it's going to require tax reform. And in order to accomplish those two things, we're going to have to have a spirit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. And I think that's possible. I think that's what the American people are looking for.

LIASSON: A solution to the debt and deficit can't happen all at once, the president warned, advising patients for what will be long and difficult negotiations. He also issued a veiled warning to Republicans that they'd be blamed if they threatened to shut down the government in hopes of getting him to agree to deeper cuts.

Pres. OBAMA: People should be careful about, you know, being too loose in terms of talking about a government shutdown because this has - this is not an abstraction. You know, people don't get their Social Security checks. They don't get their veterans payments. You know, basic functions shut down. And that also would have a adverse effect on our economic recovery.

LIASSON: Mr. Obama said both parties in both chambers of Congress have to go back and forth to try to find something with a chance of passing for this year's budget, next year's budget and then maybe a long-term debt deficit and tax reform deal.

Pres. OBAMA: I mean, my goal here is to actually solve the problem. It's not to get a good headline on the first day. My goal is is that a year from now or two years from now, people will look back and say, you know what, we actually started making progress on this issue.

LIASSON: If he does - and that's a big if, because there are so many obstacles ahead - it could mean a huge political payoff for the president. As for the other big story of the week, Egypt, President Obama brushed aside criticism that his message and strategy towards Mubarak and the protesters had at times been less than clear.

Pres. OBAMA: 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 got it about right.

LIASSON: The president thinks he got it about right on Egypt and White House aides say they think he's also getting it about right as he positions himself for a yearlong battle with the Republicans over taxes and spending.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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