Obama Goes to Facebook to Sell Agenda

Posted April 20, 2011 at 6:35pm

President Barack Obama used a town hall meeting Wednesday to amplify his call for a balanced approach to deficit reduction, including tax increases on the wealthy, while ripping Republicans for balancing the budget by cutting benefits for the poor.

“I don’t think it’s particularly courageous,” he said of the budget crafted by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor” or who don’t have lobbyists.

Obama called Ryan sincere and a patriot during the town hall, which was held at Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. But he also accused Republicans of wanting to radically change the country’s social compact. Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and create federal vouchers to help offset the cost for seniors. Under this system, future seniors would be “out of luck” should health care costs rise, according to Obama.

The president also defended his plan to raise taxes on the wealthy, in addition to cutting spending.

“What we’re talking about is going back to the rates that existed back when Bill Clinton was president,” Obama said, acknowledging that some in his audience were “still in diapers at that time.”

“The economy was booming, wealthy people were getting wealthier,” he said, adding an aside to billionaire Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “I know you’re OK with that.”

Obama said Republicans and Democrats generally agree on cutting the deficit by about $4 trillion over the next 10 years, then corrected that to 10 to 12 years. He had outlined a deficit-reduction plan last week that includes a 12-year time frame.

Obama said his plan would still allow for investments in clean energy, education, technology and transportation, which he said would all be slashed by the Republican budget proposal passed by the House last week.

The president acknowledged that the country still has a problem with rising health care costs in Medicare and Medicaid in the long term. But the solution is not to shift costs to seniors and the poor, he said, but to deliver health care more efficiently.

Asked about the struggles of first-time homebuyers to get credit, Obama meandered through the various aspects of the nation’s housing crisis but didn’t offer any clear solutions.

“There are some folks who are probably better off renting,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to return to the days when homebuyers didn’t have to put any money down, then couldn’t afford their mortgages a few years later.

He also made a pitch for comprehensive immigration reform but said Republican support would likely be necessary.

“If politicians don’t hear from you, then it probably won’t happen,” Obama said.

“If we’ve got smart people who want to come here and start businesses and are Ph.D.s in math and computer science, why wouldn’t we want them to stay? Why would we want to send them somewhere else?” he added.

Asked what he would have done differently so far in his time at the White House, Obama paused. He wondered aloud whether he could have gotten the health care overhaul law enacted faster or made it less complicated. “I’m not sure I could have,” he said.

He then pivoted to other items on his agenda, including immigration, transportation, education, and getting deficits and debt under control.

“We’ve just got a lot more work to do,” he said. “I’m hoping everybody is willing to double down and work even harder.”