- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

President Obama said during an appearance in North Carolina on Wednesday that the United States may be seeing the “beginning of the end of the recession” as he gave an impassioned defense of his administration’s response so far to the economic crisis.

Mr. Obama also gave Congress a new deadline to finish a bill on health care reform, saying he expects a vote on final passage by late September or mid-October.

The president told a town hall meeting in Raleigh that he was “startled” by a Newsweek magazine cover that said “the recession is over.” The president said that while government action has “stopped the free fall,” the country still is shedding jobs and that “tough times aren’t over.”

The event was focused on health care reform, which is being negotiated by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But in opening remarks at the forum, Mr. Obama, clearly invigorated by a cheering and supportive crowd, took on critics who say his administration is engaging in out-of-control spending and an expansion of government.

“There should be little debate that the steps we took, taken together, helped stop the economic free fall. That’s the story of the first six months,” Mr. Obama said.

However, a National Public Radio poll released Wednesday showed that 48 percent of 850 likely voters surveyed think that the president’s policies have run up the deficit without slowing the recession or job losses, with 45 percent saying they thought Mr. Obama had averted a worse crisis.

The president mentioned that he saw people holding signs protesting his appearance outside the event. Some of the signs read “Obamacare is socialism” and “Stop lying — we do have a plan.”

Mr. Obama also defended the $787 billion stimulus bill passed in February to jump-start the economy.

“This money is not being wasted,” he said, countering the perception created by comments such as those made by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who said last month that “we know some of this money is going to be wasted.”

And he ridiculed conservative critics who worked in Congress or in the George W. Bush administration, which he said handed him a $1.3 trillion deficit, which has now grown under Mr. Obama to a projected $2 trillion by the end of the year.

“I mean, seriously. I’m now president, so I’m now responsible for some of it. But I don’t think we should have selective memory,” Mr. Obama said to loud affirmations and cheering. “You hand me a $1.3 trillion bill, and then you’re complaining six months later because we haven’t paid it all back?”

Mr. Obama also stated that if health care costs $1 trillion, that is “a lot less than we spent on the war in Iraq.”

But the government so far has spent $669 billion on the Iraq war, according to the National Priorities Project. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Iraq war ultimately may cost $2 trillion.

On health care, Mr. Obama defended the still-evolving reform plans now being worked on in the House and Senate.

“Nobody is talking about some government takeover of health care. I’m tired of hearing that. I have been as clear as I can be,” the president said. “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.”

“These folks need to stop scaring everybody,” he said, admitting at the end of his remarks that he was getting “fired up.”

But independent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and the Lewin Group have found that millions of Americans — anywhere from 23 million under one version in the Senate to 114 million under the plan in the House — would be forced out of their current insurance plans if some of the reform ideas are adopted.

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