Listen to the president’s question-and-answer session with town hall attendees:
Following are the president’s remarks at the start of the meeting, as prepared for delivery and distributed by the White House:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s always good to get out of Washington for a little while and come to places like Costa Mesa – because the climate’s a lot nicer and so is the conversation. So I’m looking forward to taking your questions in a few minutes and talking with you about your concerns.
Before I do, I want to say a few words about the AIG bonuses you’ve been hearing about. I know a lot of you are outraged about this. I’m outraged, too. It’s hard to understand that a company that is relying on extraordinary assistance from taxpayers to keep its doors open would be paying anyone lavish bonuses. It goes against our most basic sense of what is fair and what is right. It offends our values.
But these bonuses, outrageous as they are, are a symptom of a much larger problem. And that is the system and culture that made them possible – a culture where people made enormous sums for taking irresponsible risks that have now put the whole economy at risk. So we are going to do everything we can to deal with these specific bonuses. But what’s just as important is that we make sure we don’t find ourselves in this situation again, where taxpayers are on the hook for losses in bad times and all the wealth generated in good times goes to those at the very top.
That is the kind of ethic we’ve had for too long. That is the kind of approach that led us into this mess. And that is something we have to change if we’re truly going to turn our economy around and move this country forward.
So I am absolutely committed to ensuring that we have the tools we need to prevent the kinds of abuses that sent AIG spiraling. And I am also committed to ensuring that if we ever do have to intervene again to prevent a bankruptcy that could be catastrophic for the whole financial system, we will have some of the tools that a bankruptcy judge has to help renegotiate contracts; to sell off insolvent parts of an institution and protect healthy parts; and to protect depositors, creditors, and other consumers.
We also want to do this because it serves the most important goal we have today, which is to rebuild our economy in a way that is consistent with our values – an economy that rewards hard work and responsibility, not high-flying finance schemes; an economy that is built on a strong foundation, but not one that’s propelled by overheated housing markets and maxed-out credit cards. In other words, we want to build an economy that offers prosperity for the long-run, not the bubble-and-burst economy we’ve experienced in recent years, where a relative few do spectacularly well while the middle class loses ground.
You know what I’m talking about. I don’t need to tell you these are challenging times. I don’t need to tell you this because you’re living it every day. One out of every ten Californians is out of work. You’ve got one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. And budget cuts are threatening the jobs of thousands of teachers across this state. But here’s what I want you to know: we are not only going to make it through this crisis, we are going to come out on the other side a stronger and more prosperous nation. I can’t tell you how long it will take or what obstacles we will face along the way, but I can promise you this – there will be brighter days ahead.
We’re already seeing signs of progress. Because of the Recovery Act that your two outstanding senators, Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer worked so hard to pass and that I signed into law the other week, a new hospital will be built at Camp Pendleton that will give our servicemen and women the care they deserve. Over in Inglewood, the police department is planning to expand its staff by thirty people. And Orange County is hoping to add a new lane on SR-91, creating about 2,000 jobs, and easing congestion in the process. These are just a few of the 396,000 jobs we will create or save in California – and the 3.5 million jobs we will create or save across America – over the next two years.
We are also taking unprecedented steps to unlock our frozen credit markets so families can get the loans they need to buy a home or a car; and businesses can pay for inventory or make payroll. That’s why earlier this week, we took a sweeping step to free up loans for entrepreneurs, helping them start and grow the small businesses that employ half our private sector workers. That’s why we are creating a fund that will help support up to $1 trillion in loans, including auto loans and college loans. And that’s why we’ve launched a housing plan that will help responsible homeowners save money by refinancing their mortgage loans.
None of this will make any difference, however, unless we strengthen our economy over the long-term; unless we put our economy on a firmer footing by rebuilding its foundation. And that’s exactly the purpose of the budget I’m submitting to Congress. It’s a budget that makes hard choices about where to save and where to spend. Because of the massive deficit we inherited and the cost of this financial crisis, we are going through our books line by line so that we can cut our deficit in half by the end of my first term and reduce it by $2 trillion over the next decade. But what we will not cut are investments that will lead to real growth and real prosperity – investments that will make a difference in the lives of this generation and future generations.
Because spiraling health care costs are crushing families, dragging down our entire economy, and represent one of the fastest growing parts of our budget, we’ve made an historic commitment to health care reform in this budget – reform that brings us closer to the day when health care is affordable and accessible for every single American.
Because we know that countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, this budget invests in a complete and competitive education for every American – in early childhood education programs that work; in high standards and accountability in our schools; and in finally putting the dream of a college degree or technical training within reach for anyone who wants it.
Because we know that enhancing America’s competitiveness will also require reducing our dependence on foreign oil and building a clean energy economy, this budget will spark the transformation we need to create green jobs and launch renewable energy companies right here in California. It makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy, and it invests in technologies like wind power and solar power and fuel-efficient cars and trucks, powered by batteries like the ones I’ll be seeing in Rosemead tomorrow – all of which will also help combat climate change.
That’s what this budget does. Here’s what it does not do. It does not raise the taxes of any family making less than $250,000 by a single dime. In fact, 95% of all working families will receive a tax cut – a tax cut – as a result of our recovery plan.
Now, there are those who say these plans are too ambitious; that we should be trying to do less, not more. Well, I say our challenges are too large to ignore. The cost of our health care is too high to ignore. Our dependence on oil is too dangerous to ignore. Our education deficit is too wide to ignore. To kick these problems down the road for another four years or eight years would be to continue the same irresponsibility that led us to this point. And I did not run for President to pass on our problems to the next generation – I ran for President to solve them.
So I know some folks in Washington and on Wall Street are saying we should focus on only one problem at a time. And I understand the thinking behind that. It’d be nice if we could pick and choose what problems to face and when to face them. But that’s just not the way it works. You don’t get to choose between paying your mortgage bills or your medical bills. You don’t get to choose between paying your kids’ tuition and saving enough for retirement. You need to take on all of these problems. And you need a government that will do the same. That’s what leadership is all about.
And that’s what this debate on the budget is all about – it’s about whether we are willing to do what needs to be done not only to get our economy moving right now, but to put it on the road to lasting, shared prosperity. It can be easy to lose sight of this. It’s easy for pundits to get on TV, put their ratings ahead of their own sense of responsibility, and oversimplify what’s at stake. It can be difficult to break free from the partisanship that’s held sway in Washington for so many years.
But that is what we have to do. That is what this moment requires. For what all of you know deep down – and what folks in Washington sometimes forget – is that in the end, a budget is not merely numbers on a page or a laundry list of programs. It is about your lives, your families, and your dreams for the future. And you didn’t send us to Washington to stand in the way of your aspirations. You didn’t send us there to say no to change – you sent us there to get things done.
And that is exactly what I intend to do. But I cannot do it without you, the American people. That’s why I’m here today – because it will take all of us talking with one another and all of us working together to see our nation through this difficult time and bring about a brighter day. So, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you, and now I’d like to open it up for questions.