Summit Promotes U.S. Budgetary Discipline

The White House hosts the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Summit on Monday. Even though the economic stimulus package has added to the country's debt, President Obama is expected to promise budgetary discipline in the future.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now the weak stock market is just one of the clouds hanging over President Obama's summit on the budget today. He's holding that at the White House. The president signed a stimulus package into law just last week, a big victory for him, but the plan will add to the budget deficit. And so, today, the president wants to looks for ways to get that deficit under control.

Let's bring in NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts, who joins us every Monday morning. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing fine, although I was just thinking, remembering, that a few years ago, the federal budget deficit was something like $400 billion.

ROBERTS: And we thought that was bad.

INSKEEP: And the last president said I want to cut it in half in four years. And now it's a trillion dollars. And the last president wants to cut it in half, which would be more than it even was before.

ROBERTS: Yes. In fact, it's more than a trillion dollars. And he's saying cut it in half by 2013. And, of course, what we've been hearing from this president since he came to office was about spending, about the big stimulus package. And now we'll be hearing about cutting, particularly taking on the great big entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security.

And, of course, that will be a problem within his own party. Medicare, it's got - its problems, sort of hit us sooner than Social Security's in terms of running out of money. But, you know, with the big baby boom generation retiring, there is constant talk about dealing with those big entitlement programs, and Democrats are not all interested in dealing with them. And that's going to be something the president's going to have to see how he can convince his own party.

INSKEEP: What about people dealing with the president's program on a state-by-state level, the governors who've been meeting here in Washington, D.C.?

ROBERTS: Well, they have - Republican governors, Democratic governors seem to be welcoming the stimulus package. Republican governors have mixed reactions. And some of them, like Governor Schwarzenegger of California, Governor Crist of Florida - great big states with great big problems - are welcoming the stimulus and saying, look, ideology is not the point here. Practicality is.

But other Republican governors, for both political reasons and substantive reasons, are saying they have problems with the stimulus - the substantive reason being that it does change the way unemployment compensation is paid, and they don't want that permanent change. But it's mainly politics and taking on this Democratic president. And the strongest voices there are people like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who will be giving the response to the president's speech tomorrow night.

The president goes before a joint session of Congress tomorrow night and talks about all of these dire budgetary problems. I'll be curious to see the tone of that speech, though, Steve, because he's been so somber in his inaugural address and what he's been saying to the people. I think this speech might be a moment for a little bit of hopefulness.

INSKEEP: Well, Cokie, when you talk through what Republicans are doing and saying here, does all of this add up to anything like the bipartisanship that the president said he wanted to bring to Washington?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, what is interesting is when you talk to Republicans in Congress, they say, look, we know we're not voting with him. But the tone is really different, that the last eight years have been so poisonous and the eight years before that, poisonous on the other side. That there was just such rancor among Democrats against Bush, among Republicans against Clinton, that this is different, that the fact that the president is reaching out does bring a more civil tone.

And what these Republicans are saying is that even though they didn't vote with him on this big stimulus package, that they think that this tone, this sense of civility will be helpful down the line, particularly on foreign policy issues, that the president will find some friends there because he doesn't have real enemies.

INSKEEP: Are the governors and Congress approaching the president a little bit differently here?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, governors are, by nature, a lot more practical. They have great big states that they have to deal with and people from different parties inside their states. But where you see the differences among the governors is ones who are running for president behave differently from those who are not.

And there are always a group of governors who think that they are going to be anointed next time around. But I think that over the weekend, it was very interesting to listen to the Republican governors who were saying, look, it doesn't matter whether you're Democrat or Republican. What matters is what works. And, of course, that is what governors bring.

INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. That's analysis on this Monday morning from NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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