Obama Touts Small Businesses In New Hampshire

President Obama on Tuesday pushed his plan to offer $30 billion to local banks to jump-start lending to small businesses. He also told a crowd in Nashua, N.H., that an overhaul of the nation's health care system needs to get "done this year."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama refused to give up on his health care overhaul today, telling an audience in Nashua, New Hampshire that the nation needs it to help reduce costs to government, business and families.

President BARACK OBAMA: Okay, let me think. I could have everybody get health care coverage that's high quality and it's free, which I'll bet is really popular.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to go through the pain of really working through this hard process in Congress, getting yelled at and called a socialist. 'Cause, you know, I guess that's how I roll. I'm a glutton for punishment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: The president said all efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit would be futile unless health care costs can be controlled.

NPR's Mara Liasson was there in Nashua and joins us now.

Mara, yesterday the president was talking about his new budget - the first one that's really his - talking about trying to stimulate jobs on the one hand and control deficit spending on the other. Today in New Hampshire, was he trying to do the same thing?

MARA LIASSON: Yes, he was trying to do the same thing. Jobs and the deficit are going to be his two big issues for the year. He was talking about the kinds of things he's doing to try to get the economy going again, a new small business lending plan that includes incentives for small businesses to hire. He also talked about his investments in education.

But he also has been talking a lot about the deficit, which is huge and getting to be dangerous, but also symbolizes a government out of control to many voters. He talked about how dangerous the deficit was to our markets, how it's going to push interest rates up, it's going to choke off the economic recovery. And that's why it's important to get it done.

SIEGEL: Now, this being New Hampshire, it's hard to avoid the subject of politics. And the president did spend some time today taking Senate Republicans to task, specifically on the idea of a bipartisan commission to reduce the federal budget deficit.

LIASSON: That's right, Robert. He endorsed a proposal by Senators Conrad and Gregg for a bipartisan commission of legislators to come up with ideas to reduce the deficit that would be presented to Congress for an up or down vote. It failed. And he took some shots at seven Republicans who had cosponsored the bill, then deserted it when it came to the floor.

Here's what he had to say about them.

Pres. OBAMA: They had been advocating for this for years. Mitch McConnell, the Republican's Senate Republican leader, had just a few months ago said this was the way to deal with this. So I said, great, let's do it. And suddenly they're gone.

LIASSON: The president's political strategy this year is to show the public that he is continuing to reach out his hand across the aisle, but that it's being bitten again and again. And when it's time for him to resort to a Democrats-only strategy to push things through in reconciliation with only 51 votes in Senate, for instance, he can point a finger with some justification to the Republicans, to say, I tried, but they were the party of no.

SIEGEL: Now, the president took a few town hall-style questions and went on for most of an hour answering them. What was on the minds of the people of Nashua, New Hampshire today?

LIASSON: What surprised me, Robert, was how much health care was on the minds of the people in Nashua, New Hampshire. Health care is not dead at all for these voters. And even though health care is in a timeout, it's been pushed to the side for the moment so that the leaders in Congress can work on the jobs bill, they will have to come back to it, and they will have to figure out a way to get it done. And that's what the president told these voters here today.

SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson in Nashua, New Hampshire. Thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

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