- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Amid the continuing backlash over AIG bonuses, President Barack Obama is defending his embattled treasury secretary and touting his ambitious $3.6 trillion budget proposal as a boon for ordinary Americans.

And, as early as Monday, the administration is expected to roll out a plan to rid banks of their toxic assets and speed the flow of loans. Some industry officials familiar with the details said they expected the approach would try to remove as much as $1 trillion from banks’ books.

Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to turn the focus back to his budget proposal, calling it “a firm foundation of investments in energy, education and health care that will lead to a real and lasting prosperity.” He plans a network television interview airing Sunday and a prime-time news conference Tuesday to continue bolstering his case.

The disclosure that American International Group Inc. paid out $165 million in bonuses to employees, including to traders in the financial unit that nearly collapsed the insurer, has dominated the news this week. It has left the Obama administration on the defensive and seeking to refocus attention.

In the interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Obama made clear he was standing behind beleaguered Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was roundly criticized over the bonus flap and steps to revive the economy.

Obama said that if Geithner offered his resignation, the answer would be, “Sorry buddy, you’ve still got the job.” CBS released excerpts Saturday.

Obama noted that corporate executives would better understand the public’s outrage over bonuses if they ventured out of New York and spent time in Iowa or Arkansas. There, he said, people are thrilled to be making $75,000 a year with no bonuses.

Still, Obama said ordinary Americans are more concerned about having a paycheck and being able to pay college or medical bills than they are about “the news of the day in Washington.”

Those are the concerns, he said, that he addresses in his budget, which he calls an economic blueprint for the future. It is “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,” Obama said Saturday.

Being heard above the din may prove difficult. Lawmakers are wrangling over taxing people who got big bonuses and worrying the president’s budget could generate $9.3 trillion in red ink over the next decade.

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