Obama: Budget Will Steady Economy

President Obama holds a town hall meeting in Los Angeles on Thursday, and he'll be joined by California's Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger. It's part of an aggressive campaign by the president to promote his economic agenda. On Wednesday, Obama said the nation's economy needs to be strengthened over the long term, and his budget will help to do that.

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For all of the intricate detail, the Obama administration's economic formula is essentially simple - mix grim warnings with a bit of optimism and a whole lot of money. The formula was on display this week. The Federal Reserve says it's pumping another trillion dollars into the economy while the president turns up on the Tonight Show. He is traveling here in California.

INSKEEP: He is campaigning to build support for the rest of his economic agenda, which unlike that Fed spending, requires approval from an increasingly skeptical Congress. The president may also have a chance to change the subject that has dominated the economic debate this week. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama began his west coast swing yesterday with a spearheaded question and answer session at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

President BARACK OBAMA: It's always good to get out of Washington for a little while…

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: …and come to places like Costa Mesa.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: You know the climate is a lot nicer and so's the conversation.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

HORSLEY: Not one person in the audience asked a question about the multi-million dollar bonuses paid to workers at the troubled insurance giant AIG. They didn't have to. Mr. Obama began his remarks by saying he's as outraged as anyone that a company would pay such bonuses at the same time it's taking handouts. Even though his administration didn't draft the contracts calling for the bonuses, Mr. Obama said I'll take responsibility, I'm the president.

Pres. OBAMA: So for everybody in Washington who is busy scrambling, trying to figure out how to blame somebody else, just go ahead and talk to me…

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: …because it's my job to make sure that we fix these messes even if I don't make 'em.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

HORSLEY: But what is just as important Mr. Obama said, is to prevent such messes from happening again. And with that, he pivoted to his own economic agenda. He said the collapse of AIG points to the need for stronger regulation and for an economy based on hard work and responsibility rather than high-flying financial schemes. California's own economy has nose-dived after the collapse of the housing market. Other states may worry about unemployment reaching 10 percent. Here it already has.

Mr. Obama talked about his efforts to help homeowners avoid foreclosure and about how the stimulus package is providing short-term funding for a new hospital, extra police officers and widening seven miles of congested Orange County Freeway.

Pres. OBAMA: None of this will make any difference however unless we strengthen our economy over the long term, unless we put our economy on a firmer footing by rebuilding its foundation, and that's exactly the purpose of the budget I'm submitting to Congress.

HORSLEY: That budget faces considerable resistance though, even from members of the president's own party. They're wondering whether the ambitious spending plan is more than the government can handle. But, Mr. Obama told supporters, they're working harder these days and the government should too.

Pres. OBAMA: You did not send us to Washington to stand in the way of your aspirations. You didn't send us there to say no to change. You sent us there to get things done and bring about change, and that's what I intend to do.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

HORSLEY: Orange County resident Lisa Fox is one of those who helped send Mr. Obama to Washington, working hard for his election in this traditionally Republican county. She and other volunteers are now mobilizing again. They'll be out campaigning Saturday on behalf of the president's budget.

Ms. LISA FOX: We're going out and basically just acting as the face of Obama's support. Saying, you know, we worked really hard to get this guy in office, we still believe in him and we, you know, would like to encourage you to support him as well.

HORSLEY: Yesterday, Mr. Obama took questions from an autoworker who's been out of a job for months, and from a teacher who got a pink slip just last weekend. One woman asked if Mr. Obama plans to run for reelection four years from now. He replied that if he doesn't deliver on his economic agenda, the voters will answer that question for him.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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