WASHINGTON - Maintaining that recovery from the worst economic downturn in decades will require time and patience, President Barack Obama asserted last night that his education, energy and health care spending plans are crucial for the nation's long-term health.
In a prime-time news conference, the president said the $3.6-trillion federal budget he has proposed is part of the solution. "We've put in place a comprehensive strategy designed to attack this crisis on all fronts," Obama said. "It's a strategy to create jobs, to help responsible homeowners, to restart lending and to grow our economy over the long term. And we are beginning to see signs of progress."
He moved to fend off Republican criticism of huge projected deficits, noting he inherited a deficit of more than $1 trillion from his predecessor and that Republicans had yet to offer an alternative to his plan.
Expressing his "anger" over bonuses paid to executives whose company received billions of dollars in federal bailout funds, Obama was asked why it took him a few days to voice that anger. "It took us a couple of days," he replied tersely, "because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."
Addressing the AIG controversy at the beginning of his East Room appearance, Obama said, "One of the most important lessons to learn from this crisis is that our economy only works if we recognize that we're all in this together, that we all have responsibilities to each other and to our country."
Asked about the new spending he proposes in troubled times, the president said: "Folks are sacrificing left and right. ... What I've said here in Washington is that we've got to make some tough choices. ... What we can't do, though, is sacrifice long-term growth."
In Congress, where opponents complain the nation cannot afford the spending and deficits, Obama said: "I expect that there are serious efforts at health-care reform. ... We've got to have a serious energy policy that frees ourselves from foreign oil. ... We've got to invest in education, K-12 and beyond. ... We've got to start driving our deficit numbers down."
Acknowledging a contentious debate ahead, he said: "We never expected when we produced our budget that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it. ... I have confidence that we are going to get a budget done that is reflective of what needs to happen in order to ensure that America grows."
Republicans are not accepting it. House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said: "The president has offered a budget that will, in my opinion, hurt our economy and destroy the very jobs that we're trying to save and to try to create."
Yet the Obama administration maintains that the economy will "bottom out" this year and start to recover with help from the president's budget initiatives in education, energy, health care and more.
"We will recover from this recession," Obama said. "But it will take time, it will take patience."
The news conference, lasting a little under an hour, came at a pivotal, moment in Obama's 64-day-old presidency. While Democrats in Congress ready budget proposals that will largely determine how much of his first-term agenda will be passed, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is churning out near-daily proposals to solve the nation's economic crisis and the administration is struggling with public and congressional outrage over bonuses paid to executives of bailed-out AIG. In addition, Obama departs next week for his first European trip as commander in chief, with the global economy a major focus.
Dealing with executive bonuses, he said bankers and executives on Wall Street had to realize "enriching themselves on the taxpayers' dime is inexcusable."
"At the same time, the rest of us can't afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more," he said.
Today Obama heads to Capitol Hill to lobby Senate Democrats.
IN HIS WORDS: obama touched upon several issues last night.
" We've accumulated a structural deficit that's going to take a long time, and we're not going to be able to do it next year or the year after or three years from now."
" We'll recover from this recession. But it will take time, it will take patience, and it will take an understanding that when we all work together; when each of us looks beyond our own short-term interests to the wider set of obligations we have to each other, that's when we succeed."
"We've got to move to a new energy era, and that means moving away from polluting energy sources toward cleaner energy sources. That is a potential engine for economic growth. I think cap-and-trade is the best way, from my perspective, to achieve some of those gains."
"What we do know is this: that the status quo is unsustainable, that it is critical for us to advance a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in their own states with peace and security."
EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS
"What we have said is that, for embryos that are typically about to be discarded, for us to be able to use those in order to find cures for Parkinson's or for Alzheimer's or, you know, all sorts of other debilitating diseases, juvenile diabetes, that, that it is the right thing to do. And that's not just my opinion. That is the opinion of a number of people who are also against abortion."
" And, and, you know, right now, the American people are judging me exactly the way I should be judged. And that is: Are we taking the steps to improve liquidity in the financial markets, create jobs, get businesses to reopen, keep America safe? And that's what I've been spending my time thinking about."
THE LATEST: Yesterday's economic developments.
TEAM EFFORT. Saying that financiers need to stop enriching themselves on the taxpayers' dime and that the public shouldn't demonize every person who seeks to make a profit, President Barack Obama said yesterday that "we're all in this together, that we all have responsibilities to each other and to our country."
POWER PLAY. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called for new powers to regulate giant nonbank financial firms, such as insurance titan American International Group, whose failure would endanger the U.S. economy. A4-5
NO PUNITIVE TAX. Lawmakers in both houses of Congress backed away from federal legislation to punitively tax executive bonuses. Obama has questioned the legality of imposing such a tax.
NO SURPRISE. Analysts said yesterday's 115-point decline in the Dow Jones industrial average was expected.
MEETING WITH BANKERS. The White House confirms Obama will meet chief executives from largest U.S. banks Friday.