Saturday, March 21, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama demanded Saturday that any budget passed by Congress must cut the deficit, overhaul health care, invest in education and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

After a week dominated by outrage over enormous corporate bonuses at bailed-out companies, Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to turn the focus back on his budget proposal and getting it through Congress.

But even as he outlined his four major requirements for a spending plan that would top $3.6 trillion, there was growing unease on Capitol Hill over a budget that congressional auditors say will generate $9.3 trillion in red ink over the next decade.

“I realize there are those who say these plans are too ambitious to enact,” Obama said. “To that I say that the challenges we face are too large to ignore. I didn’t come here to pass on our problems to the next president or the next generation _ I came here to solve them.”

Republicans, however, slammed Obama’s budget as a breathtaking spending spree. As states and families are struggling to cut spending, the president’s budget “spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much,” said Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, in the weekly Republican address.

Obama spent two days in California this week taking his sales pitch directly to the people. The campaign took him from town-hall meetings to Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show” set in an effort to garner support for a budget that will pay for his priorities. At the same time, he is promising to cut the deficit in half by the end of his four-year term.

His message, however, was drowned out for much of the week by revelations that American International Group Inc. paid out $165 million in bonuses to employees, including to traders in the financial unit that nearly caused the insurance giant’s collapse. The public outrage was followed by congressional efforts to impose punitive taxes on those payouts.

In his Saturday message, Obama contended that ordinary Americans are more concerned about having a paycheck and being able to pay their college or medical bills more than they are about “the news of the day in Washington.”

And those are the concerns, he said, that he addresses in his budget, calling it an economic blueprint for the future. It is, he said, “a vision of America where growth is not based on real estate bubbles or over-leveraged banks, but on a firm foundation of investments in energy, education and health care that will lead to a real and lasting prosperity.”

With a nod to Capitol Hill, he said the specific dollar amounts in his budget plan will likely change, but in the end his four priorities must be met.

Those are plans to boost investments in clean energy technologies, including wind and solar power; increased funding for childhood education programs, affordable college costs and higher standards for schools; health care reform that will lower costs, including Medicare and Medicaid; and a scrutiny on domestic spending that will lead to cuts in the deficit.

“The American people sent us here to get things done, and at this moment of great challenge, they are watching and waiting for us to lead,” Obama said. “Let’s show them that we are equal to the task before us.”


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