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BELLANTONI: Budget ‘sold’ as central to recovery

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ANALYSIS:

Besieged by an economic crisis he says he inherited and a series of setbacks, President Obama is reprising his optimistic campaign style to sell his massive budget plan that is drawing heat even from his party's leaders on Capitol Hill.

Promising "a better day will come," Mr. Obama Tuesday used his still-strong popularity to take on the flow of bad economic news and taxpayer anger over executive bonuses and to say that now is the time to act boldly despite a ballooning deficit.

But the president was using his "bully pulpit" to spar not just with Republicans but Democratic lawmakers, who are trimming and hobbling some of his signature initiatives from his budget, from middle-class tax cuts to plans to combat global warming.

He emphasized the budget is the foundation for "economic recovery" and "lasting prosperity," talking points that have trickled down to his supporters, who are using campaign-style tactics to rally support for the measure. They knocked on 1 million doors over the weekend.

"If this were easy then we would have already had it done and the budget would have been done, and then we could go home," Mr. Obama said in his second prime-time press conference of his presidency.

As he fielded questions from reporters, Mr. Obama already was seeking to bypass the traditional media and speak straight to the American people through a "town-hall" forum scheduled for Thursday, when the president will take questions submitted online at WhiteHouse.gov.

" 'Open for Questions' is a new experiment for WhiteHouse.gov, the president's latest effort to open up the White House and give Americans from around the country a direct line to the administration," the new-media team wrote.

The move follows Mr. Obama's use of less-traditional forums - outreach to the world via an international newspaper op-ed Tuesday and an appearance on "The Tonight Show" last week - to sell his budget as an investment in the future and to rally global support.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the unusual venues have been used to speak "directly with the American people."

"The president [wants] to give people a sense of what we're doing and a sense of where we're going; that they may or may not like all the decisions that he makes, but I think he believes it's important that they understand why he's making the decisions that he is," Mr. Gibbs said Monday.

Republicans are attacking the Obama agenda, hitting him on everything from the American International Group bonus debacle to a health-insurance proposal that was quickly yanked after drawing the ire of veterans.

But the biggest sparring point is expected to be that his $3.6 trillion 2010 budget greatly adds to the deficit as he uses it to fulfill his signature campaign promises of health care, education and alternative energy. He also projects cutting the deficit in half by 2013.

Already Democrats are balking at the spending and how much it adds to the national debt.

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Tuesday presented an alternate plan allowing Mr. Obama's tax cut for workers to expire at the end of 2010, in order to try to cut the deficit.

Democratic lawmakers also won't let the president use fast-track rules to pass his global-warming plan over Republican objections.

Mr. Obama's hopes of working with Republicans have been dashed frequently since the last press conference: A Republican Cabinet nominee backed out, and he won just three moderate Republican votes on the stimulus bill.

"Yesterday President Obama said GOP'ers have decided to just 'be against whatever the other side is for.' So much for bipartisanship," Sen. John McCain, Mr. Obama's Republican presidential rival, wrote on his Twitter feed Tuesday.

The biggest difficulties for the new president during his Feb. 9 press conference were the tax problems of a Cabinet nominee, but in the weeks since, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has plunged and the nation has bled more jobs.

That's why on Tuesday most questions focused on the economy and deficit spending, with none of the 13 questioners asking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new president has been hit hardest by the handling of the AIG bonuses, which the administration, fearing a lawsuit, allowed to be paid out despite bailing out the company.

While Mr. Obama remains popular among the American people who say they are patient, polls show they believe he bungled the AIG issue.

A CBS poll released Monday shows 42 percent disapprove of Mr. Obama's handling of AIG, while 41 percent approve, but his overall approval rating was unchanged, with 64 percent of those surveyed expressing their satisfaction with his performance.

Obama supporters find it irritating that anyone is questioning his success rate, since he's been in office just over two months, and they note he already has achieved popular measures such as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, allowing federal funding of stem cell research and a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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