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Obama's "Investment" Strategy

Obama's "Investment" Strategy

By Mike Memoli - March 25, 2009

Millions of Americans have seen their investments waste away during this economic crisis. So it was curious to hear President Obama defend his budget not as a spending plan, but as a package of worthwhile investments that will ultimately restore prosperity and set the nation on the right course.

In fact, Obama used a variation of the word "invest" at least 22 times in his prime time news conference Tuesday night, battling back charges that his effort to expand health care, improve education and achieve energy independence would "bankrupt" the nation.

More from RealClearPolitics: 10 Most Memorable Moments in Obama's Administration

"What I've said here in Washington is that we've got to make some tough choices," Obama told the more than 300 reporters gathered in the East Room, and millions of Americans watching on television. "What we can't do, though, is sacrifice long-term growth, investments that are critical to the future. And that's why my budget focuses on health care, energy, education -- the kinds of things that can build a foundation for long-term economic growth, as opposed to the fleeting prosperity that we've seen over the last several years."

That statement came in response to a question from CBS News' Chip Reid, who reminded the president that he has said he did not want to "pass on our problems to the next generation," but put forth a budget that would add from $7 to $9.3 trillion in the next 10 years. Obama again pointed a finger back at the Republicans, saying they don't have the standing to criticize him on fiscal responsibility. And he argued that only by implementing the pillars of his agenda will a true recovery take hold.

"This budget is inseparable from this recovery, because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity," he said in his opening statement - read not from his standard teleprompter in front of the podium, but from a monitor in the back of the East Room.

Obama's plan, like investments on Wall Street, certainly comes with risks. The political risk he takes is that each of his "down payments" on items like health care and alternative energy come with no immediate return - meaning that even if they prove successful down the road, the short-term impact to the deficit might scare off increasingly skeptical lawmakers. Obama recognized this, repeating throughout the news conference on a host of issues that he is not choosing the easy route.

"Look, if this were easy, then, you know, we would have already had it done, and the budget would have been voted on, and everybody could go home," he said. "This is hard."

Maintaining the status quo is simply not an option in his mind. And he said several times that Republicans have yet to offer a counterproposal, so he offered a straw-man argument.

"The alternative is to stand pat and to simply say, 'We are just going to not invest in health care. We're not going to take on energy. We'll wait until the next time that gas gets to $4 a gallon. We will not improve our schools, and we'll allow China or India or other countries to lap our young people in terms of their performance. We will settle on lower growth rates, and we will continue to contract, both as an economy and our ability to -- to provide a better life for our kids.' That, I don't think is the better option."

Obama's first major news conference came six weeks ago, as he sought to reclaim momentum in his effort to pass a stimulus plan. Tuesday's prime time event was meant to give the president a similar opportunity to use the bully pulpit that only a president has to refocus the nation's attention on his agenda, and away from the deepening anger and frustration over Wall Street practices. Congress is only now beginning to delve deeper into his plan, and Obama will soon leave on a nine-day trip to Europe.

But the AIG bonus mess could not be ignored, and in fact the most contentious exchange of the evening was about the nature of the administration's response. CNN's Ed Henry said that it seemed that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo seemed to be showing greater effectiveness in his actions, and asked why it took the president days to comment publicly.

"It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak," Obama said sternly, before quickly moving on.

The president will continue his sales job Wednesday when he visits Capitol Hill. It'll be an important meeting, as voices of criticism are increasingly coming not just from Republicans, but the very Democratic caucus he'll be addressing. But he claims that was not a surprise.

"We never expected, when we printed out our budget, that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it," Obama said.

More from RealClearPolitics: 10 Most Memorable Moments in Obama's Administration

Mike Memoli covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at mmemoli@realclearpolitics.com

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