'We will recover,' Obama says

He defends budget, broad strategy, cautions it will take time, patience

March 25, 2009|By Mark Silva | Mark Silva,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Maintaining that recovery from the worst economic downturn in decades will require time and patience, President Barack Obama asserted Tuesday 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 $3.55 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."

In office for 64 tumultuous days, Obama cast his budget - now under review in Congress - as essential if the economy is to recover. The tax and spending plan "is inseparable from this recovery because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity," he said.

The president, expressing his "anger" over bonuses paid to executives whose company received billions of dollars in federal bailout funds, 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."

Obama has been vocal in his unhappiness over the $165 million in retention bonuses paid to executives at AIG.

"Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayers' dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over," he said.

"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.

Obama used this East Room appearance - his second prime-time televised news conference in two months - to promote a budget that supporters praise as ambitious and critics decry as big-spending. It anticipates a deficit of more than $1 trillion in 2010, with Obama promising to halve that by 2013.

Asked about the new spending that 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."

Asked what he expects from Congress, 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 A. 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."

The Obama administration contends that the economy will "bottom out" this year and start to recover with help from the president's budget initiatives.

"We will recover from this recession," the president said. "But it will take time, it will take patience."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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