WHITE HOUSE - During a prime-time press conference Tuesday night, President Obama sought to tamp down on anger over the AIG bonuses even as he assured Americans that he is “as angry as anybody” about the situation.
“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.”
The president worked to move beyond the AIG scandal that dominated last week’s headlines during his second prime-time press conference. In opening remarks, he pushed his ambitious $3.6 billion budget proposal, arguing that it “lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity.”
Investment in renewable energy, he said, will “lead to new jobs, new businesses, and less dependence on foreign oil,” while health care reform will reduce costs for businesses, the government and individuals.
The overall proposal, he said, will ensure “that we do not face another crisis like this ten or twenty years from now.”
Mr. Obama also took on Republican critics who argue that his administration is spending too much in its budget and bailout efforts. In a statement released just before the news conference, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said his “massive budget proposal would increase our nation’s deficit to its highest level since World War II and burden our children and grandchildren under trillions of dollars in debt.”
“At the end of the day, the best way to bring our deficit down in the long run is not with a budget that continues the very same policies that have led to a narrow prosperity and massive debt,” the president said.
Reporters repeatedly pressed the president on spending during the news conference.
“Under your budget, the debt will increase $7 trillion over the next 10 years,” CBS News White House Correspondent Chip Reid said. “The Congressional Budget Office says $9.3 trillion. And today on Capitol Hill, some Republicans called your budget, with all the spending on health care, education and environment, the most irresponsible budget in American history. Isn't that kind of debt exactly what you were talking about when you said ‘passing on our problems to the next generation’?”
“First of all, I suspect that some of those Republican critics have a short memory, because, as I recall, I'm inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit, annual deficit, from them,” responded Mr. Obama. “That would be point number one.”
He went on to say that “it is going to be an impossible task for us to balance our budget if we're not taking on rising health care costs, and it's going to be an impossible task to balance our budget or even approximate it if we are not boosting our growth rates."
Mr. Obama declined to say whether he would sign a budget that eliminates his middle-class tax cut after 2010, as some Senate Democrats have proposed.