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Obama Strives for Long-term Fiscal Fix at Summit

BY Admin  February 23, 2009 at 5:30 PM EDT

President Obama; AP file photo

At the Monday afternoon summit, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, economists, independent experts and advocacy group representatives will discuss Social Security, health care and defense costs that have led to a projected $1.2 trillion deficit.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, that amounts to 8.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The stimulus bill will add to that deficit, the CBO reported.

“If we confront this crisis without also confronting the deficits that helped cause it, we risk sinking into another crisis down the road,” President Obama said in his opening statement to the summit. “We cannot and will not sustain deficits like these without end. Today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office.”

The meeting is the first event in a week where the nation’s budget problems will remain at the forefront.

“It can either be a nice press event. Or it can be a substantive event,” said Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, according to CBS News. “History tells us it will be the first. We’ve had these meetings before. There’s always a lot of people willing to point out the problem.”

Gregg was nominated to be commerce secretary, but later withdrew, citing policy differences with the president.

Another senator, Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, warned that the deficit-cutting discussion could endanger programs such as Social Security and Medicaid.

“It would be a betrayal of the needs of the middle class of this country if we lowered Social Security benefits or raised the retirement age for Social Security eligibility,” said Sanders, according to the New York Times.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made opening remarks at the summit then the participants split into breakout groups covering five topics: Social Security, health care, tax reform, budget process, and procurement.

Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the summit that addressing health care costs were critical.

“The single most important thing we can do to put the nation back on a sustainable (fiscal) course is slow healthcare costs. It is the key to our fiscal future,” Orszag told the summit on Monday.

In total 24 senators and 29 House representatives from both sides will attend at least part of the summit. They will be joined by representatives that span across a range of organizations and think tanks including the AARP, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and American Enterprise Institute, among many others.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will address a joint session of Congress where he will outline his plans to deal with the current economic problems and the country’s fiscal situation. On Thursday, he will fill in the details as he unveils his first budget plan.

“I’ll release a budget that’s sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting, and that lays out in detail my strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don’t, and restoring fiscal discipline,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday.

Orszag said the budget will aim to cut the federal budget deficit in half by the end of the president’s first term “without any gimmicks,” according to the Associated Press.

To do this, the budget includes spending reductions as a result of troop withdrawal from Iraq and increased revenue from higher taxes on the wealthy, according to the Boston Globe.

State governments are also facing budget deficits, but unlike the federal government, they must balance their budget.

President Obama told a conference of the National Governor’s Association that he would release $15 billion of the stimulus bill on Wednesday to help states cover Medicaid costs.

“That means that by the time you get home, money will be waiting to help 20 million vulnerable Americans in your states keep their health coverage,” President Obama said, according to pool reports.