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Obama Defends Budget Priorities

President Barack Obama was relentlessly on message in pushing for his budget priorities tonight, repeating time after time that he wants Congress to approve his plans for overhauling the nation’s health care system, improving education and generating alternative energy.The president’s budget is under siege from Republicans and being questioned by some Democrats as well, particularly in the wake of this week’s Congressional Budget Office estimate that found the 10-year deficit will be some $2.3 trillion more than Obama’s Office of Management and Budget predicted. Obama minimized the difference tonight, saying it was the result of differing estimates of growth and that his estimates were consistent with those of “blue chip— forecasters.The president hammered home his argument that “investments— in his priorities are needed to secure long-term budget discipline. He said it will be an “impossible task— to balance the budget if reforms are not enacted to reduce health care costs and the country fails to “boost our growth rates— through spending on education. “We can’t sacrifice long-term growth investments that are critical to the future,— he said.“Let’s do a whole host of things, some of which cost money in the short run— but which will reduce costs on “the back end,— he said. The country could not afford to “wait until gas gets to $4 a gallon— and to fail to improve schools while China and other countries “lap our children.—Obama suggested he had no problem with what some see as his overexposure while trying to sell the budget, saying he wanted to get “out front as much as possible explaining in very clear terms what we’re doing.—But the president appeared to display flexibility on the specifics of his proposals. “There are going to be a lot of details— that need to be worked out, he acknowledged. He said he wanted a “serious— health care plan and a “serious— energy bill, seemingly willing to let Congress add in many details.“We never expected when we printed out budget that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it,— he said.Asked about his cap-and-trade proposal for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which some in Congress are balking at moving this year as part of reconciliation, Obama said he wanted Congress to accept “the broader principle— that “we’ve got to move to a new energy era.— He said, though, that he personally still favors the plan.Similarly, with his extension of a middle-class tax cut in jeopardy, Obama noted that there were middle-class tax cuts in the stimulus bill and that in any case the cut would remain in place for two years. But Obama said he was sticking to his plan to cut the mortgage and charitable deductions for the wealthiest taxpayers. “I think it’s the right thing to do,— he asserted. “This provision would affect about 1 percent of the American people.— Obama added that “there’s very little evidence that this has a significant impact on charitable giving.—Republicans are quick to note the differences between Obama and his Democratic allies. “Even before the President stepped up to the podium, his budget plan was being undercut by key Democrats determined to overhaul the Administration’s economic blueprint, including scrapping the President’s signature tax promise. Bad policies followed by bad timing,— Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an e-mail after the press conference. “The Administration should acknowledge it is spending, taxing and borrowing too much and commit to dramatically reining in its budget.—Mostly gone tonight were previously expressed hopes for bipartisanship. Obama barely mentioned anything about wanting to work with Republicans but found time to slam GOP Members for having a “short memory— about their own deficit spending as they now criticize his. The press went relatively lightly on the hottest issue of the past week, the granting of large bonuses to executives by failed insurer American International Group. Asked why he didn’t offer more immediate outrage when he found out about the practice, Obama quipped, “It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.—The president also touted his various efforts to rescue the financial system, saying the latest move a proposal to grant himself new powers to take over failing non-bank financial institutions was needed to avoid another AIG fiasco. And with him now needing Wall Street to help scoop up toxic assets under another proposal announced this week, Obama seemed to back off some of his harsher rhetoric toward investment bankers.“We can’t afford to demonize every investor and entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit,— he said.In a “prebuttal— issued before the president spoke, Boehner assailed Obama for spending and taxing too much.“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,— Boehner said. “I just think that this may be the most irresponsible piece of legislation I’ve seen in my legislative career. It’s an irresponsible plan that only makes the crisis we’re in worse.—

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