What The U.S. Got From A Euro-Focused Summit

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President Obama comes back to Washington Saturday from the G-20 summit in France. NPR's Scott Horsley examines what the president achieved at the meeting, considering an agenda heavily overshadowed by the European debt crisis.


President Obama spent the last two days in France wrestling with Europe's financial problems. He's back in the United States this morning where America has its own economic challenges. Home and abroad, Mr. Obama and his fellow leaders are confronted with slow growth, big debts and the political battles over how to deal with them. NPR Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama capped off his visit to France by joining French president Nicolas Sarkozy and uniformed service members from both countries in a celebration of two centuries of Franco-American military cooperation.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Viva la France, God bless America and long live the alliance between our two great nations.


HORSLEY: Hours later, Mr. Obama was winging his way back to Washington. The G-20 summit that brought him to France was largely consumed by the debt crisis plaguing Europe. The president offered advice and encouragement but no additional money for the Europeans. Even as he huddled with his fellow G-20 leaders, Mr. Obama was conscious of the economic challenges back home.


OBAMA: In the United States we recognize that as the world's largest economy, the most important thing we can do for global growth is to get our own economy growing faster.

HORSLEY: According to the Labor Department, the U.S. economy added just 80,000 jobs last month. Continued hiring in the private sector was once again partly offset by layoffs in state and local governments. And while the unemployment rate inched down in October it's still a painfully high 9 percent.


OBAMA: Is that good enough? Absolutely not. We've got to do more and as soon as I get some signal from Congress that they're willing to take their responsibilities seriously, I think we can do more.

HORSLEY: The president pointed to some areas where he's been able to work successfully with Congress, passing three new trade deals for example. But his push for a larger jobs bill with middle class tax cuts and new government spending paid for with higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans has hit a wall of resistance from congressional Republicans. And if winning cooperation from the legislature in his own country is difficult, Mr. Obama says it's that much more complicated to find consensus in the Eurozone.


OBAMA: You're negotiating with multiple parliaments, a European parliament, a European commission - I mean there are just a lot of institutions here in Europe.

HORSLEY: Europe's been under pressure to erect a financial firewall to prevent the debt crisis in Greece from spreading to bigger economies like Italy and Spain. Mr. Obama says this week's political turmoil in Greece merely underscores the importance of that effort. Leaders of the G-20 countries have been cheering the Europeans on.


OBAMA: All of us have an enormous interest in Europe's success, and all of us will be affected if Europe is not growing, and that certainly includes the United States, which counts Europe as our largest trading partner.

HORSLEY: For all the encouragement, though, this week's summit meeting produced little in the way of specific fixes for Europe's debt problems. Ideas were floated for making more money available to countries like Italy through the International Monetary Fund. Italy also invited the IMF to monitor and provide periodic reports on its efforts to get its fiscal house in order. Mr. Obama says European leaders have the basic blueprint for protecting vulnerable economies, shoring up banks, dealing with Greece and addressing the Eurozone's structural challenges.

Now, he says, they need to act on those plans.


OBAMA: That's the right recipe. It just has to be carried out.

HORSLEY: The G-20 leaders also agreed in principle to take steps to encourage stronger economic growth, a shift from last year's focus on fiscal austerity. China even acknowledged a need to allow it's currency to appreciate more quickly. In a news conference marking the end of the G-20 summit, Mr. Obama said there's no excuse for inaction. That's the same message he'll be delivering to reluctant members of Congress here at home. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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