Bravo Mr. President Obama

Bravo Mr. President Obama for finally trying to put this silly Birth Certificate issue, emphasized especially by Mr. Donald Trump and others, to rest! 

It is amazing to see that an acting President is asked to produce and publish his birth certificate! I have never heard about such request before. (If someone would like to educate me on this issue, please do so!)

However, I am at the same time appalled about the current rising negativity in the rhetoric of some politicians! These individuals, as well as groups, continue to distract and scare people in the United States as well as all around the world, as it had been already done during the Jorge W. Bush administration! 

If the United States wants to be seen as an example for democracy then these kinds of tactics should be eliminated once and for all. These kinds of rhetoric place a cloud of disrespect and dishonesty over the country. I think politicians  should return to honest rhetoric and certain media outlets  should return to morally responsible and  unbiased news reporting.

How can you expect countries who are trying to free themselves from government and/or political ideology controlled medial look up to the United States as an paradigm, if the United States is not able to do so?

President Obama on His Birth Certificate & the Real Issues Facing America (video/transcipt)

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Now, let me just comment, first of all, on the fact that I can't get the networks to break in on all kinds of other discussions -- (laughter.) I was just back there listening to Chuck -- he was saying, it’s amazing that he’s not going to be talking about national security. I would not have the networks breaking in if I was talking about that, Chuck, and you know it.

Q Wrong channel. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: As many of you have been briefed, we provided additional information today about the site of my birth. Now, this issue has been going on for two, two and a half years now. I think it started during the campaign. And I have to say that over the last two and a half years I have watched with bemusement, I've been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going. We've had every official in Hawaii, Democrat and Republican, every news outlet that has investigated this, confirm that, yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital.

We've posted the certification that is given by the state of Hawaii on the Internet for everybody to see. People have provided affidavits that they, in fact, have seen this birth certificate. And yet this thing just keeps on going.

Now, normally I would not comment on something like this, because obviously there’s a lot of stuff swirling in the press on at any given day and I've got other things to do. But two weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we're going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.

And so I just want to make a larger point here. We've got some enormous challenges out there. There are a lot of folks out there who are still looking for work. Everybody is still suffering under high gas prices. We're going to have to make a series of very difficult decisions about how we invest in our future but also get a hold of our deficit and our debt -- how do we do that in a balanced way.

And this is going to generate huge and serious debates, important debates. And there are going to be some fierce disagreements -- and that’s good. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. And I am confident that the American people and America’s political leaders can come together in a bipartisan way and solve these problems. We always have.

But we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other. We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.

We live in a serious time right now and we have the potential to deal with the issues that we confront in a way that will make our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids proud. And I have every confidence that America in the 21st century is going to be able to come out on top just like we always have. But we’re going to have to get serious to do it.

I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve. And I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them -- not on this.

Thanks very much, everybody.


A National Strategic Narrative by Mr. Y

Fareed Zakaria posted on GPS: Here's what Foreign Policy had to say about the Mr. Y article:

On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: "A National Strategic Narrative." The report was issued under the pseudonym of "Mr. Y," a takeoff on George Kennan's 1946 "Long Telegram" from Moscow (published under the name "X" the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.

The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a "personal" capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, under investing in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world.

Read the A National Strategic Narrative by Mr. Y yourself.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address April 23, 2011 (Video/Transcipt)

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address on Gas Prices
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Washington, DC

This is a time of year when people get together with family and friends to observe Passover and to celebrate Easter. It’s a chance to give thanks for our blessings and reaffirm our faith, while spending time with the people we love. We all know how important that is – especially in hard times. And that’s what a lot of people are facing these days.

Even though the economy is growing again and we’ve seen businesses adding jobs over the past year, many are still looking for work. And even if you haven’t faced a job loss, it’s still not easy out there. Your paycheck isn’t getting bigger, while the cost of everything from college for your kids to gas for your car keeps rising. That’s something on a lot of people’s minds right now, with gas prices at $4 a gallon. It’s just another burden when things were already pretty tough.

Now, whenever gas prices shoot up, like clockwork, you see politicians racing to the cameras, waving three-point plans for two dollar gas. You see people trying to grab headlines or score a few points. The truth is, there’s no silver bullet that can bring down gas prices right away.

But there are a few things we can do. This includes safe and responsible production of oil at home, which we are pursuing. In fact, last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003. On Thursday, my Attorney General also launched a task force with just one job: rooting out cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices, including any illegal activity by traders and speculators. We’re going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain. And another step we need to take is to finally end the $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies we give to the oil and gas companies each year. That’s $4 billion of your money going to these companies when they’re making record profits and you’re paying near record prices at the pump. It has to stop.

Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy sources, we need to invest in tomorrow’s. We need to invest in clean, renewable energy. In the long term, that’s the answer. That’s the key to helping families at the pump and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We can see that promise already. Thanks to an historic agreement we secured with all the major auto companies, we’re raising the fuel economy of cars and trucks in America, using hybrid technology and other advances. As a result, if you buy a new car in the next few years, the better gas mileage is going to save you about $3,000 at the pump.

But we need to do more. We need to harness the potential I’ve seen at promising start-ups and innovative clean energy companies across America. And that’s at the heart of a debate we’re having right now in Washington about the budget.

Both Democrats and Republicans believe we need to reduce the deficit. That’s where we agree. The question we’re debating is how we do it. I’ve proposed a balanced approach that cuts spending while still investing in things like education and clean energy that are so critical to creating jobs and opportunities for the middle class. It’s a simple idea: we need to live within our means while at the same time investing in our future.

That’s why I disagree so strongly with a proposal in Congress that cuts our investments in clean energy by 70 percent. Yes, we have to get rid of wasteful spending – and make no mistake, we’re going through every line of the budget scouring for savings. But we can do that without sacrificing our future. We can do that while still investing in the technologies that will create jobs and allow the United States to lead the world in new industries. That’s how we’ll not only reduce the deficit, but also lower our dependence on foreign oil, grow the economy, and leave for our children a safer planet. And that’s what our mission has to be.

Thanks for listening, and have a great weekend.


Obama's Facebook Town Hall Meeting Part.6 (video/Transcipt)

Continue the White House transcript of the remarks by the President at a Facebook Town Hall!

MR. ZUCKERBERG:  So we have time for only one more question.

     THE PRESIDENT:  All right.

MR. ZUCKERBERG:  It’s a question from Terry Atwater (ph) from Houston, Texas:  “If you had to do anything differently during your first four years, what would it be?”

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s only been two and a half, so I’m sure I’ll make more mistakes in the next year and a half.  The jury will still be out.  (Laughter.)  There are all sorts of day-to-day issues where I say to myself, oh, I didn't say that right, or I didn't explain this clearly enough, or maybe if I had sequenced this plan first as opposed to that one, maybe it would have gotten done quicker.

Health care obviously was a huge battle, and if it hadn’t been for Nancy Pelosi and her leadership in the House and the great work that -- (applause) -- Anna Eshoo and Mike Honda and others did -- we wouldn’t have gotten it done if it hadn’t been for great work in Congress.

But I do think that it was so complicated that at a certain point people just started saying, oh, this is typical Washington bickering.  And I’ve asked myself sometimes is there a way that we could have gotten it done more quickly and in a way that the American people wouldn’t have been so frustrated by it?   I’m not sure I could have because there’s a reason why it hadn’t gotten done in a hundred years.  It is a -- it’s hard to fix a system as big as health care and as complicated as our health care system.

I can tell you that -- I think the best way to answer the question is what do I feel I still have to get done, where I still feel a huge sense of urgency.  I’ve talked about a couple of things.  Getting our deficits and debt under control in a balanced way I feel needs to happen while I’m President.  I don't want to leave it to the next President.

Immigration -- something I mentioned -- we have not gotten done.  It’s something I care deeply about.  It’s the right thing for the country.  I want to get that done while I’m President.

Energy -- we haven’t talked a lot about energy today, but first of all, $4-a-gallon gas really hurts a lot of people around this country.  It’s not because they're wasteful, but if you’re driving 50 miles to work and that's the only job you can find, and you can’t afford some hybrid so you’re stuck with the old beater that you’re driving around that gets eight miles a gallon, these gas prices are killing you right now.

And so this is the reason why I’ve said that it is so important for us to invest in new approaches to energy.  We’ve got to have a long-term plan.  It means investing in things like solar and wind, investing in biofuels, investing in clean car technology.  It means converting the federal fleet 100 percent to fuel-efficient vehicles, because we’re a huge market maker. Obviously it turns out that I’ve got a lot of cars as President. (Laughter.)
And if we’re out there purchasing electric cars and hybrids, that can help boost demand and drive down prices.  Continuing to increase fuel-efficiency standards on cars; increasing oil production but in an intelligent way.  I mean, those are all hugely important.  And by the way, we can pay for it.

     Let me say this.  We lose -- the Treasury loses $4 billion a year on subsidies to oil companies.  Now, think about this.  The top five oil companies have made somewhere between $75 billion and $125 billion every year for the last five years.  Nobody is doing better than Exxon.  Nobody is doing better than Shell or these other companies.  They are doing great.  They are making money hand over fist.  Well, maybe Facebook is doing a little better.  (Laughter.)  But you get the idea.  They’re doing really well.  They don’t need special tax breaks that cost us $4 billion.  So what we’ve said is, why can’t we eliminate the tax breaks for the oil companies who are doing great, and invest that in new energy sources that can help us save the planet?  (Applause.)

     So when it comes to energy, when it comes to immigration, when it comes to getting our deficit under control in a balanced and smart way, when it comes to improving our math and science education, when it comes to reinvesting in our infrastructure, we’ve just got a lot more work to do.

     And I guess my closing comment, Mark, would just be I hope that everybody here -- that you don’t get frustrated and cynical about our democracy.  I mean it is frustrating.  Lord knows it’s frustrating.  (Laughter.)  And I know that some of you who might have been involved in the campaign or been energized back in 2008, you’re frustrated that, gosh, it didn’t get done fast enough and it seems like everybody is bickering all the time.  Just remember that we’ve been through tougher times before.  We’ve always come out ascendant, we’ve always come out on top, because we’ve still got the best universities in the world, we’ve still got the most productive workers in the world, this is still the most dynamic, entrepreneurial culture in the world.

If we come together, we can solve all these problems.  But I can’t do it by myself.  The only way it happens is if all of you still get involved, still get engaged.

It hasn’t been that long since Election Day, and we’ve gone through some very, very tough times and we’ve still gotten a lot done.  We’ve still been able to get this economy recovering.  We’ve still been able to get health care passed.  We’ve still been able to invest in clean energy.  We’ve still been able to make sure that we overturn “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  We still made sure that we got two women on the Supreme Court.  We’ve made progress.  (Applause.)

So rather than be discouraged, I hope everybody is willing to double down and work even harder.  Regardless of your political affiliation, you’ve got to be involved, especially the young people here, your generation.  If you don’t give us a shove, if you don’t give the system a push, it’s just not going to change.  And you’re going to be the ones who end up suffering the consequences.

But if you are behind it, if you put the same energy and imagination that you put into Facebook into the political process, I guarantee you there’s nothing we can’t solve.

All right?  Thank you, Mark.  (Applause.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  So I just want to thank you again.  It’s such an honor to have you here.

     THE PRESIDENT:  We had a great time.

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  And as a small token of our appreciation, in case for some reason you want to dress like me --

     THE PRESIDENT:  Nice, nice.

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  A Facebook hoodie.  (Applause.)

     THE PRESIDENT:  This is a high-fashion statement right here. This is beautiful.
Thank you very much, everybody.

Appreciate you.  (Applause.)

Obama's Facebook Town Hall Meeting Part.5 (video/Transcipt)

Continue the White House transcript of the remarks by the President at a Facebook Town Hall!

MR. ZUCKERBERG:  All right.  So the next one is from another Facebook employee.  Here’s James Mitchell.  So, James Mitchell, where are you from?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Here’s James back here.

     Q    Hi, Mr. President.

     THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, James.

     Q    I'm James Mitchell, born in Chicago and raised out here in Cupertino, California.  I have yet another question for you about the debt and health care.
     THE PRESIDENT:  Go ahead.
     Q    So the biggest threat we have fiscally is the rise in health care costs.  Unfortunately, a lot of the solutions we hear to Medicare and Medicaid don’t involve actually slowing down the rise in health care costs.  Instead, they involve shifting costs to beneficiaries and states.  So my question is:  Can you talk a bit more about what provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act are designed to slow down the rise of health care costs, and what policies you’d like to see enacted in the future to continue to slow down the rise of health care costs?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Let me give you a couple of examples, because you’re exactly right in how you describe it.  I don’t want to just shift the health care costs on to the American people, I want to actually reduce health care costs.

     Let’s take the example of health IT.  We’re in Silicon Valley, so we can talk about IT stuff.  I’ll try to sound like I know what I’m talking about.  (Laughter.)  The health care system is one of the few aspects of our society where a lot of stuff is still done on paper.  The last time you guys went to a doctor’s office or maybe to your dentist’s office, how many people still had, like, to fill out a form on a clipboard?  Right?  And the reason for that is because a large chunk of our provider system is not automated.  So what ends up happening is you may go to your primary care physician; he does some basic tests, he sees something of concern, he refers you to a specialist.  You go to the specialist; he’ll do another test.

You’re getting charged, or your insurance company is getting charged, for both those tests, as opposed to the test that was taken by your primary care physician being emailed to the specialist.  Or better yet, if it turns out that there may be three or four specialists involved, because it’s a difficult diagnosis -- this is all hypothetical; you look very healthy.  (Laughter.)  But let’s say there were a bunch of specialists.  What would be ideal would be if you get all the specialists together with the primary care physician the first time you’re seen so that you’re not paying for multiple visits as well as multiple tests.

     That’s not how it works right now.  Now, part of it is technology.  So what we did in the Affordable Care Act, building on what we did with the Recovery Act, is try to provide incentives to providers to start getting integrated, automated systems.  And it’s tough because the individual doctor may say to him or herself, I don’t want to put out the initial capital outlay; that’s expensive even though it may make my system more efficient later on.

     So providing some incentives, some help, for the front end investments for a community hospital or for individual providers so that we can slowly get this system more effective, that’s priority number one.
We know it can be done, by the way.  Surprisingly enough, the health care system that is -- does the best job on this of anybody is actually the Veterans Administration, the VA health care system, because it’s a fully integrated system.  Everybody is working for the VA, all the doctors, all the hospitals, all the providers, so they’ve been able to achieve huge cost savings just because everybody is on a single system.

     It’s also, though, how we reimburse doctors and how we reimburse hospitals.  So right now, what happens is, when you’ve taken those two tests, if you’re old enough to qualify for Medicare, well, each doctor sends their bill to Medicare and Medicare pays both bills.  And let’s say that you end up getting an operation.  They’ll send the bill for that, and Medicare pays that.  Let’s say they didn’t do a very good job, or you got sick in the hospital, and you are readmitted and you have to be treated again and they have to do the operation all over again.  Medicare then gets billed for the second operation.

     I mean, imagine if that’s how it worked when you bought a car.  So you go, you buy your car.  A week later, the car doesn’t work.  You go back to the dealer and they charged you to fix the bad job that they did in the first place.  Well, that’s what Medicare does all the time.  So we don’t provide incentives for performance.  We just provide -- we just pay for the number of qualified items that were procedures that were performed or tests that were performed by the provider.

     So what we want to do is to start changing how folks are reimbursed.  Let’s take a hospital.  We want to give -- this is sort of like Race to the Top, what Mark was talking about in education.  We want to be able to say to a hospital, if you do a really good job reducing infection rates in the hospital, which kill tens of thousands of people across America every year and are a huge cause for readmission rates, and we know that hospitals can drastically reduce those reinfection rates just by simple protocols of how employees are washing their hands and how they’re moving from room to room and so forth -- there are hospitals who have done it -- if we can say to a hospital, you’ll get a bonus for that, Medicare will reimburse you for instituting these simple procedures, that saves the whole system money.

     And that's what we’ve tried to do in the Affordable Care Act, is to start institutionalizing these new systems.  But it takes time because we’ve got a private sector system -- it’s not like the VA -- a bunch of individual doctors, individual hospitals spread out all across the country with private insurers.  So it’s not something that we can do overnight.

     Our hope is, is that over the next five years, we’re able to see significant savings through these mechanisms, and that will save everybody -- not just people who are on Medicare and Medicaid -- it will save everybody money including folks here at Facebook.  Because I’m sure that you guys provide health insurance and I suspect if you look at your health insurance bills they don't make you happy.  Okay.  (Applause.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  So we have time for only one more question.

     THE PRESIDENT:  All right.

MR. ZUCKERBERG:  It’s a question from Terry Atwater (ph) from Houston, Texas:  “If you had to do anything differently during your first four years, what would it be?”

Obama's Facebook Town Hall Meeting Part.4 (video/Transcipt)

Continue the White House transcript of the remarks by the President at a Facebook Town Hall!
MR. ZUCKERBERG:  All right.  So the next one is from a Facebook employee, Leo Abraham.  Leo, where are you from?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, Leo.

     Q    Hi, hey.  I’m from -- originally from San Jose, California.  My question is:  The 2012 budget plan proposed by Paul Ryan has been praised by many in the media as bold or brave. Do you see this as a time that calls for boldness, and do you think that the plan you outlined last week demonstrated sufficient boldness, or is this just a media creation?

     THE PRESIDENT:  No, it’s a great question.  Look, here is what I’d say.  The Republican budget that was put forward I would say is fairly radical.  I wouldn’t call it particularly courageous.  I do think Mr. Ryan is sincere.  I think he’s a patriot.  I think he wants to solve a real problem, which is our long-term deficit.  But I think that what he and the other Republicans in the House of Representatives also want to do is change our social compact in a pretty fundamental way.

Their basic view is that no matter how successful I am, no matter how much I’ve taken from this country -- I wasn’t born wealthy; I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents.  I went to college on scholarships.  There was a time when my mom was trying to get her PhD, where for a short time she had to take food stamps.  My grandparents relied on Medicare and Social Security to help supplement their income when they got old.

     So their notion is, despite the fact that I’ve benefited from all these investments -- my grandfather benefited from the GI Bill after he fought in World War II -- that somehow I now have no obligation to people who are less fortunate than me and I have no real obligation to future generations to make investments so that they have a better.

So what his budget proposal does is not only hold income tax flat, he actually wants to further reduce taxes for the wealthy, further reduce taxes for corporations, not pay for those, and in order to make his numbers work, cut 70 percent out of our clean energy budget, cut 25 percent out of our education budget, cut transportation budgets by a third.  I guess you could call that bold.  I would call it shortsighted.  (Applause.)

     And then, as I said, there’s a fundamental difference between how the Republicans and I think about Medicare and Medicaid and our health care system.  Their basic theory is that if we just turn Medicare into a voucher program and turn Medicaid into block grant programs, then now you, a Medicare recipient, will go out and you’ll shop for the best insurance that you’ve got -- that you can find -- and that you’re going to control costs because you’re going to say to the insurance company, this is all I can afford.

That will control costs, except if you get sick and the policy that you bought doesn’t cover what you’ve got.  Then either you’re going to mortgage your house or you’re going to go to the emergency room, in which case I, who do have insurance, are going to have to pay for it indirectly because the hospital is going to have uncompensated care.

     So they don’t really want to make the health care system more efficient and cheaper.  What they want to do is to push the costs of health care inflation on to you.  And then you’ll be on your own trying to figure out in the marketplace how to make health care cheaper.

     The problem is, you’re just one person.  Now, you work at Facebook, it’s a big enough company; Facebook can probably negotiate with insurance companies and providers to get you a pretty good deal.  But if you’re a startup company, if you’re an entrepreneur out there in the back of your garage, good luck trying to get insurance on your own.  You can’t do it.  If you’re somebody who’s older and has a preexisting condition, insurance companies won’t take you.

     So what we’ve said is let’s make sure instead of just pushing the costs off on to people who individually are not going to have any negotiating power or ability to change how providers operate, or how hospitals or doctors operate, how insurance companies operate, let’s make sure that we have a system both for Medicare but also for people who currently don’t have health insurance where they can be part of a big pool.  They can negotiate for changes in how the health care system works so that it’s more efficient; so that it’s more effective; so that you get better care, so that we have fewer infection rates, for example, in hospitals; so there are fewer readmission rates; so that we’re caring for the chronically ill more effectively; so that there are fewer unnecessary tests.  That’s how you save money.  The government will save money, but you’ll also save money.

     So we think that’s a better way of doing it.  Now, what they’ll say is, well, you know what, that will never work because it’s government imposed and it’s bureaucracy and it’s government takeover and there are death panels.  I still don’t entirely understand the whole “death panel” concept.  But I guess what they’re saying is somehow some remote bureaucrat will be deciding your health care for you.  All we’re saying is if we’ve got health care experts -- doctors and nurses and consumers -- who are helping to design how Medicare works more intelligently, then we don't have to radically change Medicare.

     So, yes, I think it’s fair to say that their vision is radical.  No, I don't think it’s particularly courageous.  Because the last point I’ll make is this.  Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless or don't have lobbyists or don't have clout.  I don't think that's particularly courageous.  (Applause.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  All right, the next one is from the web.  We’ve got a question from Kwami Simmons (ph) from Orlando, Florida.  And he asks:  “I strongly believe that education is the greatest equalizer.  With so many problems plaguing our current system, is it possible to examine a complete overhaul of the system so that it addresses the needs of modern students?”

     And before you jump in, I just want to say as someone who has spent a bunch of time researching education and who cares about this, I think the Race to the Top stuff that you guys have done is one of the most under-appreciated and most important things that your administration has done.  (Applause.)

     THE PRESIDENT:  I appreciate that.  This is an area where actually I think you’ve seen the parties actually come together. And there’s some good bipartisan work being done.

     It used to be that the argument around education always revolved around the left saying we just need more money, and the right saying we should just blow up the system because public schools aren’t doing a good job.  And what you’re now seeing is people recognizing we need both money and reform.  It’s not an either-or proposition; it’s a both-and proposition.

So what Mark just mentioned, something called Race to the Top, pretty simple concept.  Most federal dollars are allocated through a formula.  If you’ve got a certain number of poor kids or you’ve got a certain number of disabled kids in your school district, there’s a formula, and you get a certain amount of money.  And every state and every school district gets that money according to the formula.

     What we did was we took about 1 percent of the total spending on education and we said, to get this 1 percent, show us that you’re reforming the system.  It’s almost -- it’s like a competition model.  And so every state, every school district could apply.  And you had to show us that you had a good plan to retrain teachers and recruit and do good professional development so we’ve got the best teacher possible.

     You had to have accountability.  You had to show us that you were actually making progress in the schools, and that you were measuring through data the improvements that were being made; that you were reaching into the schools that were hardest to reach -- because there are about 2,000 schools around the country that account for the majority of dropouts in our country.  They're like dropout factories -- so show us a plan to go into those schools and really make a big difference.

     And what’s happened is that over 40 states, in the process of competing for this extra money, ended up initiating probably the most meaningful reforms that we’ve seen in a generation.  And so it’s made a huge difference.  Even those states that didn't end up actually winning the competition still made changes that are improving the potential for good outcomes in the schools.

     So that's the kind of creative approach that you’ve seen some Democrats and some Republicans embrace.  And our hope is we can build on that.

A couple of things that we know work:  The most important thing to a good education is making sure we’ve got a good teacher in front of that classroom.  And so providing more support for teachers, recruiting the best and brightest into teaching, making sure that they're compensated, but also making sure that they're performing, that's hugely important.

     The other thing is good data so that there’s a constant feedback, not just a bunch of standardized tests that go into a drawer or that people may game in order not to get penalized.  That's what happened under No Child Left Behind.  But instead, real good data that you can present to the teacher while they're still teaching that child and say, you know what, this child is falling behind in math; here are some ways to do it, to improve their performance.

     So we’re starting to see real progress on the ground, and I’m optimistic that we can actually, before the 2012 election, potentially have a federal education law that will embody some of the best information that we have about how to initiate good school reform.

     Now, last point I’ll make on this:  Government alone can’t do it.  One of the things every time I come to Silicon Valley that I’m inspired by but I’m also frustrated by is how many smart people are here, but also frustrated that I always hear stories about how we can’t find enough engineers, we can’t find enough computer programmers.  You know what, that means our education system is not working the way it should, and that's got to start early.

     And that's why we’re emphasizing math and science.  That's why we’re emphasizing teaching girls math and science.  (Applause.)

That's why we’re emphasizing making sure that black and Hispanic kids are getting math and science.  (Applause.)

     We’ve got to do such a better job when it comes to STEM education.  AAnd that’s one of the reasons, by the way, that we had our first science fair at the White House in a very long time, just because we want to start making science cool.  (Applause.)  I want people to feel the same way about the next big energy breakthrough or the next big Internet breakthrough, I want people to feel the same way they felt about the moon launch -- that that’s how we’re going to stay competitive for the future.  And that’s why these investments in education are so important.

     But, as I said, government alone can’t do it.  There has got to be a shift in American culture, where once again we buckle down and we say this stuff is important and it’s -- that’s why, Mark, the work you’re doing in Newark, for example, the work that the Gates Foundation are doing in philanthropic investments, in best practices and education -- especially around math and science training -- are going to be so important.
     We’ve got to lift -- we’ve got to lift our game up when it comes to technology and math and science.

That’s, hopefully, one of the most important legacies that I can have as President of the United States.  (Applause.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  All right.  So the next one is from another Facebook employee.  Here’s James Mitchell.  So, James Mitchell, where are you from?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Here’s James back here.

     Q    Hi, Mr. President.

     THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, James.

     Q    I'm James Mitchell, born in Chicago and raised out here in Cupertino, California.

Obama's Facebook Town Hall Meeting Part.3 (video/Transcipt)

Continue the White House transcript of the remarks by the President at a Facebook Town Hall!

MR. ZUCKERBERG:  So I think the next question is from a Facebook employee in the room today.  So Lauren Hale has a question.  Lauren, where are you from?

Q    Hi -- over here.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, Lauren.

Q    Hi, Mr. President.  Thank you so much for joining us today.  I am originally from Detroit, Michigan, and now I'm out here working at Facebook.  So my question for you kind of builds on some of the things we were just talking about.  At the beginning of your term you spent a lot of time talking about job creation and the road to economic recovery, and one of the ways to do that would be substantially increasing federal investments in various areas as a way to fill the void left from consumer spending.  Since then, we’ve seen the conversation shift from that of job creation and economic recovery to that of spending cuts and the deficit.  So I would love to know your thoughts on how you’re going to balance these two going forward, or even potentially shift the conversation back.

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you’re exactly right that when I first came into office our number-one job was preventing us from getting into another Great Depression.  And that was what the Recovery Act was all about.  So we helped states make sure that they could minimize some of the layoffs and some of the difficult budget choices that they faced.  We made sure that we had infrastructure spending all around the country.  And, in fact, we made the biggest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System..

     We made the largest investment in history in clean energy research, and it’s really paying off.  For example, when I came into office, we had about 2 percent of the advanced battery manufacturing here in America.  And as everybody here knows, what’s really holding us back from my goal of a million electric vehicles on the road is that battery technology is still tough.  It’s clunky; it’s heavy; it’s expensive.  And if we can make significant improvements in battery technology then I think the opportunities for electric vehicles, alternative vehicles that are much cheaper -- our opportunities are limitless.

     So those were all investments that we made in the first two years.  Now, the economy is now growing.  It’s not growing quite as fast as we would like, because after a financial crisis, typically there’s a bigger drag on the economy for a longer period of time.  But it is growing.  And over the last year and a half we’ve seen almost 2 million jobs created in the private sector.

     Because this recession came at a time when we were already deeply in debt and it made the debt worse, if we don’t have a serious plan to tackle the debt and the deficit, that could actually end up being a bigger drag on the economy than anything else.  If the markets start feeling that we’re not serious about the problem, and if you start seeing investors feel uncertain about the future, then they could pull back right at the time when the economy is taking off.

     So you’re right that it’s tricky.  Folks around here are used to the hills in San Francisco, and you’ve driven -- I don’t know if they still have clutch cars around here.  Anybody every driven a clutch car?  (Laughter.)  I mean, you got to sort of tap and -- well, that’s sort of what we faced in terms of the economy, right?  We got to hit the accelerator, but we’ve got to also make sure that we don’t gun it; we can’t let the car slip backwards.  And so what we’re trying to do then is put together a debt and deficit plan that doesn’t slash spending so drastically that we can’t still make investments in education, that we can’t still make investments in infrastructure -- all of which would help the economy grow.

     In December, we passed a targeted tax cut for business investment, as well as the payroll tax that has a stimulus effect that helps to grow the economy.  We can do those things and still grow the economy while having a plan in place to reduce the deficit, first by 2015, and then over the long term.  So I think we can do both, but it does require the balanced approach that I was talking about.

     If all we’re doing is spending cuts and we’re not discriminating about it, if we’re using a machete instead of a scalpel and we’re cutting out things that create jobs, then the deficit could actually get worse because we could slip back into another recession.

And obviously for folks in Detroit, where you’re from, they know that our investments can make a difference because we essentially saved the U.S. auto industry.  We now have three auto companies here in America that are all turning a profit.  G.M. just announced that it’s hiring back all of the workers that it was planning to lay off.  And we did so, by the way, at the same time as we were able to increase fuel efficiency standards on cars for the first time in 30 years.  So it can be done, but it takes a balanced approach.  (Applause.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  All right, so we have a question from the University of Florida, where in February, you launched this initiative at, younger Americans with this goal to have a hundred youth roundtables across the country and a bunch of them are taking place right now, watching this Facebook live.
     So Cesar Fernandez (ph) and Elisa Rectanas (ph) are participating in one of those roundtables, and they wanted to ask you this:  “Mr. President, in your deficit reduction speech last week you spoke of the need to not only reduce government spending but to also increase federal revenue.  In light of our nation’s budget challenges, will your administration consider revisiting policies such as the DREAM Act, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion and increase the government revenue by $2.3 billion over the next 10 years?”  (Applause.)

     THE PRESIDENT:  Let me talk about not only the DREAM Act but about immigration policy generally.  And I want to thank -- Sheryl Sandberg actually participated in a discussion that we had yesterday, bringing together business leaders and government officials and faith leaders, a broad cross-section of Americans together to talk about how do we finally fix an immigration system that's fundamentally broken.

     For those of you who aren’t familiar, the DREAM Act is -- deals with a particular portion of the population, kids who were brought here when they were young by their parents; their parents might have come here illegally -- the kids didn't do anything.  They were just doing what kids do, which is follow their parents. They’ve grown up as Americans.  They went to school with us or with our kids.  They think of themselves as Americans, but many of them still don't have a legal status.

     And so what we’ve said is, especially for these young people who are our neighbors, our friends, our children’s friends, if they are of good character and going to school or joining our military, they want to be part of the American family, why wouldn’t we want to embrace them?  Why wouldn’t we want to make sure that -- (applause.)  Why wouldn’t we want to make sure that they're contributing to our future?

     So that's the DREAM Act.  But that's just a small part of a broader challenge that we have.  Immigration in this country has always been complicated.  The truth of the matter is that we are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.  Sometimes the laws haven’t been fair.  Sometimes the laws have been restrictive to certain ethnic groups.  There have been quotas.  Sometimes our immigration policies have been arbitrary and have been determined by whether industry at a particular time was willing to bring in workers on the cheap.
     But what’s undeniable is America is a nation of immigrants. That’s our history and that’s what makes us stronger.  Because we’ve got ambitious people from all around the world who come here because they’ve got a new idea and they want to create the new big thing, or they just want a better future for their kids and their family, and that dynamism is part of what’s propelled our progress and kept us young.

     Now, I think most Americans understand that and most Americans agree with that.  At the same time, I think most Americans feel there should be an orderly process to do it.  People shouldn’t just be coming here and cutting in front of the line, essentially, and staying without having gone through the proper channels.

     So what we’ve said is let’s fix the whole system.  First of all, let’s make the legal immigration system more fair than it is and more efficient than it is.  And that includes, by the way, something I know that is of great concern here in Silicon Valley. If we’ve got smart people who want to come here and start businesses and are PhDs in math and science and computer science, why don’t we want them to say?  (Applause.)  I mean, why would we want to send them someplace else?  (Applause.)

     So those are potential job creators.  Those are job generators.  I think about somebody like an Andy Grove of Intel. We want more Andy Groves here in the United States.  We don’t want them starting companies -- we don’t want them starting Intel in China or starting it in France.  We want them starting it here.

     So there’s a lot that we can do for making sure that high-skilled immigrants who come here, study -- we’ve paid for their college degrees, we’ve given them scholarships, we’ve given them this training -- let’s make sure that if they want to reinvest and make their future here in America that they can.  So that’s point number one.
     But point number two is you also have a lot of unskilled workers who are now here who are living in the shadows.  They’re contributing to our economy in all sorts of ways.  They’re working in the agricultural sector.  They are in restaurants, and they’re in communities all across the country looking after children and helping to building America.  But they’re scared, and they feel as if they’re locked out of their surroundings.
And what I’ve said is they did break the law; they came here -- they have to take responsibility for that.  They should pay a fine.  They should learn English.  They should go to the back of the line so that they don’t automatically get citizenship.  But there should be a pathway for them to get legalized in our society so they don’t fear for themselves or their families, so that families aren’t separated.

At the same time, let’s make sure we’ve got a secure border so that folks aren’t wandering through the desert to get here.  Let’s make the legal immigration system more efficient and more effective so there aren’t huge backlogs.

     This is all part of what we call comprehensive immigration reform.  And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to achieve a system that is fair, is equitable, is an economic engine for America that helps the people who are already here get acculturated, and make sure that our laws aren’t being broken but we’re still true to our traditions.

     But, as I mentioned to Sheryl yesterday, I can’t solve this problem by myself.  Nancy Pelosi is a big champion of this.  The Democratic caucus in the House I think is prepared for -- a majority of them are prepared to advance comprehensive immigration reform.  But we’re going to have to have bipartisan support in order to make it happen.  And all of you have to make sure your voices are heard, saying this is a priority, this is something important -- because if politicians don’t hear from you, then it probably won’t happen.  I can’t do it by myself.  We’re going to have to change the laws in Congress, but I’m confident we can make it happen.  (Applause.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  All right.  So the next one is from a Facebook employee, Leo Abraham.  Leo, where are you from?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, Leo.

     Q    Hi, hey.  I’m from -- originally from San Jose, California.  My question is:  The 2012 budget plan proposed by Paul Ryan has been praised by many in the media as bold or brave.

Obama's Facebook Town Hall Meeting Part.2 (video/Transcipt)

Continue the White House transcript of the remarks by the President at a Facebook Town Hall!

We think we can do about another $400 billion.

     So we’ve got to look at spending both on non-security issues as well as defense spending.  And then what we’ve said is let’s take another trillion of that that we raise through a reform in the tax system that allows people like me -- and, frankly, you, Mark -- for paying a little more in taxes.  (Laughter.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  I’m cool with that.

     THE PRESIDENT:  I know you’re okay with that.  (Laughter.)  Keep in mind, what we’re talking about is going back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was President.  Now, a lot of you were -- (laughter) -- I’m trying to say this delicately -- still in diapers at that time.  (Laughter.)  But for those of you who recall, the economy was booming, and wealthy people were getting wealthier.  There wasn’t a problem at that time.  If we go back to those rates alone, that by itself would do a lot in terms of us reducing our overall spending.  And if we can get a trillion dollars on the revenue side, $2 trillion in cutting spending, we can still make investments in basic research.

We can still invest in something we call ARPA-E, which is like DARPA except just focused on energy, so that we can figure out what are the next breakthrough technologies that can help us reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
     We can still make investments in education, so we’ve already expanded the Pell Grant program so that more young people can go to college.  We’re investing more in STEM education -- math and science and technology education.  We can still make those investments.  We can still rebuild our roads and our bridges, and invest in high-speed rail, and invest in the next generation of broadband and wireless, and make sure everybody has access to the Internet.  We can do all those things while still bringing down the deficit medium term.

     Now, there’s one last component of this -- and I know this is a long answer but I wanted to make sure everybody had the basic foundations for it.  Even if we get this $4 trillion, we do still have a long-term problem with Medicare and Medicaid, because health care costs, the inflation goes up so much faster than wages and salaries.  And this is where there’s another big philosophical debate with the Republicans, because what I’ve said is the best way for us to change it is to build on the health reform we had last year and start getting a better bang for our health care dollar.

We waste so much on health care.  We spend about 20 percent more than any other country on Earth, and we have worse outcomes because we end up having multiple tests when we could just do one test and have it shared among physicians on Facebook, for example.

     We could focus on the chronically ill; 20 percent of the patients account for 80 percent of the costs.  So doing something simple like reimbursing hospitals and doctors for reducing their readmissions rate, and managing somebody with a chronic illness like diabetes so that they're taking their meds on a regular basis so that they don't come to the emergency room, that saves huge amounts of money.

     So that's what health care reform was about last year or a year and a half ago, and what we want to do is build on that and continue to improve the system.

     What the Republicans right now are saying is, number one, they can't agree to any increases in taxes, which means we’d have to cut out -- of that $4 trillion, all of it would come from education, transportation -- areas that I think are critical for our long-term future.

     So, for example, they proposed 70 percent cuts in clean energy.  Well, I don't know how we free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil -- and anybody who is paying gas prices knows that there’s an economic component to this as well as an environmental component to it -- if we’re not investing in the basic research and technology that allows solar, wind and others to thrive and develop.

     At the same time, what they’ve said is let’s make Medicare into a voucher program, so that retirees, instead of knowing that they're always going to have health care, they're going to get a voucher that covers part of the cost, and whatever health care inflation comes up is all going to be on them.  And if the health insurance companies don't sell you a policy that covers your illnesses, you’re out of luck.

     I think it is very important for us to have a basic social safety net for families with kids with disabilities, for seniors, for folks who are in nursing homes, and I think it’s important for us to invest in our basic research.  We can do all those things, but we’re only going to be able to do it by taking a balanced approach.  And that's what this big debate is about -- all about right now.  All right?

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  All right, so -- sorry, don't mean to cut off the applause.  (Applause.)

     THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, no, no, no.

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  That was a very thorough answer.

     THE PRESIDENT:  No, they were -- they were stunned by the length of that answer.  (Laughter.)  But it’s complicated stuff.

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  So the next question is from someone watching Facebook live.  Jay Aptine (ph) from Williamsburg, Virginia writes in and asks:  “The housing crisis will not go away.  The mortgage financing for new homebuyers with low to moderate income is becoming very difficult.  As President, what can you do to relax the policies that are disqualifying qualified homebuyers from owning their first home?  How can you assure the low to moderate homebuyers that they will have the opportunity to own their first home?”

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s a good question.  And I’ll be honest with you, this is probably the biggest drag on the economy right now that we have -- along with I know the frustrations people have about gas prices.  What we’ve really seen is the housing market, which was a bubble, had greatly over-inflated in all regions of the country.  And I know I probably don't get a lot of sympathy about that here because I can only imagine what rents and mortgages you guys are paying.

     It is a real drag in all sorts of ways.  People, first of all, they feel poorer even if they still have a home or they’ve already purchased a home, because for a lot of folks their mortgage is now what’s called underwater.  The mortgage is more than the home is worth.  And so if you feel like your most important asset is now worth less than your debt, that's going to constrain how you spend.  People who want to move have a great deal of trouble selling, and people who want to buy, as you pointed out, are seeing terms a lot more restrictive.
     So we've put in place a bunch of programs to try to see if we can speed along the process of reaching a new equilibrium.  For example, what we did is we went to the mortgage lender and said, why don't you renegotiate with your mortgage -- with the person with the mortgage, renegotiate the terms of their mortgage so that their principal is a little bit lower, they can afford the payments, and that way homes don't get foreclosed on, there are fewer homes on the market, and that will raise prices and that will be good for everybody.  And we've seen some significant progress on that front.

The challenge we still have, as your questioner properly points out, is that a lot of people who bought a first home when credit was easy now are finding that credit is tough.  And we've got to strike a balance.  Frankly, there’s some folks who are probably better off renting.  And what we don't want to do is return to a situation where people are putting no money down and they’ve got very easy payment terms at the front end and then it turns out five years from now, because they’ve got an adjustable rate mortgage, that they couldn't afford it and they lose their home.

I think the regulators are trying to get that balance right. There are certain communities with high foreclosure rates where what we're trying to do is see if can we help state and local governments take over some of these homes and convert them and provide favorable terms to first-time home buyers.  But, frankly, I think we've got to understand that the days where it was really easy to buy a house without any money down is probably over.  And what we -- what I'm really concerned about is making sure that the housing market overall recovers enough that it’s not such a huge drag on the economy, because if it isn’t, then people will have more confidence, they’ll spend more, more people will get hired, and overall the economy will improve.
But I recognize for a lot of folks who want to be first-time homebuyers it’s still tough out there.  It’s getting better in certain areas, but in some places, particularly where there was a big housing bubble, it’s not.

MR. ZUCKERBERG:  So I think the next question is from a Facebook employee in the room today.  So Lauren Hale has a question.  Lauren, where are you from?

Q    Hi -- over here.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, Lauren.
Q    Hi, Mr. President.  Thank you so much for joining us today.  I am originally from Detroit, Michigan, and now I'm out here working at Facebook.  So my question for you kind of builds on some of the things we were just talking about.  At the beginning of your term you spent a lot of time talking about job creation and the road to economic recovery,

Obama's Facebook Town Hall Meeting Part.1 (video/Transcipt)

The White House transcript of the remarks by the President at a Facebook Town Hall!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you so much, Facebook, for hosting this, first of all.  (Applause.)  My name is Barack Obama, and I'm the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  (Laughter.)  I'm very proud of that.  (Laughter.)       MR. ZUCKERBERG:  Second time.

     THE PRESIDENT:  I know.  (Laughter.)  I will say -- and I hate to tell stories on Mark, but the first time we had dinner together and he wore this jacket and tie, I'd say halfway through dinner he’s starting to sweat a little bit.  It’s really uncomfortable for him.  So I helped him out of his jacket.  (Laughter.)  And in fact, if you’d like, Mark, we can take our jackets off.  (Applause.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  That's good.

     THE PRESIDENT:  Woo, that's better, isn’t it?

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  Yes, but you're a lot better at this stuff than me.  (Laughter.)

     THE PRESIDENT:  So, first of all, I just want to say thank you to all of you for taking the time -- not only people who are here in the audience, but also folks all over the country and some around the world who are watching this town hall.

     The main reason we wanted to do this is, first of all, because more and more people, especially young people, are getting their information through different media.  And obviously what all of you have built together is helping to revolutionize how people get information, how they process information, how they’re connecting with each other.

     And historically, part of what makes for a healthy democracy, what is good politics, is when you’ve got citizens who are informed, who are engaged.  And what Facebook allows us to do is make sure this isn’t just a one-way conversation; makes sure that not only am I speaking to you but you're also speaking back and we're in a conversation, were in a dialogue.  So I love doing town hall meetings.  This format and this company I think is an ideal means for us to be able to carry on this conversation.

And as Mark mentioned, obviously we're having a very serious debate right now about the future direction of our country.  We are living through as tumultuous a time as certainly I've seen in my lifetime.  Admittedly, my lifetime is a lot longer than most of yours so far.  This is a pretty young crowd.  But we're seeing, domestically, a whole series of challenges, starting with the worst recession we've had since the Great Depression.  We're just now coming out of it.  We've got all sorts of disruptions, technological disruptions that are taking place, most of which hold the promise of making our lives a lot better, but also mean that there are a lot of adjustments that people are having to make throughout the economy.

We still have a very high unemployment rate that is starting to come down, but there are an awful lot of people who are being challenged out there, day in, day out, worrying about whether they can pay the bills, whether they can keep their home.

Internationally, we're seeing the sorts of changes that we haven't seen in a generation.  We've got certain challenges like energy and climate change that no one nation can solve but we're going to have to solve together.  And we don't yet have all the institutions that are in place in order to do that.

But what makes me incredibly optimistic -- and that's why being here at Facebook is so exciting for me -- is that at every juncture in our history, whenever we face challenges like this, whether it’s been the shift from a agricultural age to a industrial age, or whether it was facing the challenges of the Cold War, or trying to figure out how we make this country more fair and more inclusive, at every juncture we’ve always been able to adapt.  We’ve been able to change and we’ve been able to get ahead of the curve.  And that’s true today as well, and you guys are at the cutting edge of what’s happening.

     And so I’m going to be interested in talking to all of you about why this debate that we’re having around debt and our deficits is so important, because it’s going to help determine whether we can invest in our future and basic research and innovation and infrastructure that will allow us to compete in the 21st century and still preserve a safety net for the most vulnerable among us.

     But I’m also going to want to share ideas with you about how we can make our democracy work better and our politics work better -- because I don’t think there’s a problem out there that we can’t solve if we decide that we’re going to solve it together.

And for that, I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak to you.  And instead of just giving a lot of long speeches I want to make sure that we’ve got time for as many questions as possible.
     So, Mark, I understand you got the first one.

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  Yes, let’s start off.  So let’s start off with the conversation about the debt.  So I understand that yesterday morning you had a town hall in Virginia where you talked about your framework not only for resolving the short-term budget issues, but the longer-term debt.  And you spent some time talking about tax reform and some cost cutting, but you also spent a lot of time talking about things that you didn’t think that we could cut -- in education, infrastructure and clean energy.

     So my question to kind of start off is:  What specifically do you think we should do, and what specifically do you think we can cut in order to make this all add up?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me, first of all, Mark, share with you sort of the nature of the problem, because I think a lot of folks understand that it’s a problem but aren’t sure how it came about.

     In 2000, at the end of the Clinton administration, we not only had a balanced budget but we actually had a surplus.  And that was in part because of some tough decisions that had been made by President Clinton, Republican Congresses, Democratic Congresses, and President George H.W. Bush.  And what they had said was let’s make sure that we’re spending wisely on the things that matter; let’s spend less on things that don’t matter; and let’s make sure that we’re living within our means, that we’re taking in enough revenue to pay for some of these basic obligations.

     What happened then was we went through 10 years where we forgot what had created the surplus in the first place.  So we had a massive tax cut that wasn’t offset by cuts in spending.  We had two wars that weren’t paid for.  And this was the first time in history where we had gone to war and not asked for additional sacrifice from American citizens.  We had a huge prescription drug plan that wasn’t paid for.

And so by the time I started office we already had about a trillion-dollar annual deficit and we had massive accumulated debt with interest payments to boot.  Then you have this huge recession.  And so what happens is less revenue is coming in -- because company sales are lower, individuals are making less money -- at the same time there’s more need out there.  So we’re having to help states and we’re having to help local governments.

And that -- a lot of what the recovery was about was us making sure that the economy didn’t tilt over into a depression by making sure that teachers weren’t laid off and firefighters weren’t laid off, and there was still construction for roads and so forth -- all of which was expensive.  I mean, that added about another trillion dollars worth of debt.

So now what we’ve got is a situation not only do we have this accumulated debt, but the baby boomers are just now starting to retire.  And what’s scary is not only that the baby boomers are retiring at a greater rate, which means they're making greater demands on Social Security, but primarily Medicare and Medicaid, but health care costs go up a lot faster than inflation and older populations use more health care costs.  You put that all together, and we have an unsustainable situation.

So right now we face a critical time where we’re going to have to make some decisions how do we bring down the debt in the short term, and how do we bring down the debt over the long term.
     In the short term, Democrats and Republicans now agree we’ve got to reduce the debt by about $4 trillion over the next 10 years.  And I know that sounds like a lot of money -- it is.  But it’s doable if we do it in a balanced way.
     What I proposed was that about $2 trillion over 10 to 12 years is reduction in spending.  Government wastes, just like every other major institution does, and so there are things that we do that we can afford not to do.  Now, there are some things that I’d like to do, are fun to do, but we just can’t afford them right now.
     So we’ve made cuts in every area.  A good example is Pentagon spending, where Congress oftentimes stuffs weapons systems in the Pentagon budget that the Pentagon itself says we don’t need.  But special interests and constituencies helped to bloat the Pentagon budget.  So we’ve already reduced the Pentagon budget by about $400 billion.  We think we can do about another $400 billion.

     So we’ve got to look at spending both on non-security issues as well as defense spending.  And then what we’ve said is let’s take another trillion of that that we raise through a reform in the tax system that allows people like me -- and, frankly, you, Mark -- for paying a little more in taxes.  (Laughter.)

     MR. ZUCKERBERG:  I’m cool with that.

     THE PRESIDENT:  I know you’re okay with that.  (Laughter.)  Keep in mind, what we’re talking about is going back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was President.  Now, a lot of you were -- (laughter) -- I’m trying to say this delicately -- still in diapers at that time.  (Laughter.)  But for those of you who recall, the economy was booming,


President Barack Obama Weekly Address April 16, 2011 (Video/Transcipt)

Remarks of President Barack Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Washington, DC

This week, I laid out my plan for our fiscal future. It’s a balanced plan that reduces spending and brings down the deficit, putting America back on track toward paying down our debt.

We know why this challenge is so critical. If we don’t act, a rising tide of borrowing will damage our economy, costing us jobs and risking our future prosperity by sticking our children with the bill.

At the same time, we have to take a balanced approach to reducing our deficit – an approach that protects the middle class, our commitments to seniors, and job-creating investments in things like education and clean energy. What’s required is an approach that draws support from both parties, and one that’s based on the values of shared responsibility and shared prosperity.

Now, one plan put forward by some Republicans in the House of Representatives aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years. But while I think their goal is worthy, I believe their vision is wrong for America.

It’s a vision that says at a time when other nations are hustling to out-compete us for the jobs and businesses of tomorrow, we have to make drastic cuts in education, infrastructure, and clean energy – the very investments we need to win that competition and get those jobs.

It’s a vision that says that in order to reduce the deficit, we have to end Medicare as we know it, and make cuts to Medicaid that would leave millions of seniors, poor children, and Americans with disabilities without the care they need.

But even as this plan proposes these drastic cuts, it would also give $1 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest 2% of Americans – an extra $200,000 for every millionaire and billionaire in the country.

I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think it’s right to ask seniors to pay thousands more for health care, or ask students to postpone college, just so we don’t have to ask those who have prospered so much in this land of opportunity to give back a little more.

To restore fiscal responsibility, we all need to share in the sacrifice – but we don’t have to sacrifice the America we believe in.

That’s why I’ve proposed a balanced approach that matches that $4 trillion in deficit reduction. It’s an approach that combs the entire budget for savings, and asks everyone to do their part. And I’ve called on Democrats and Republicans to join me in this effort – to put aside their differences to help America meet this challenge. That’s how we’ve balanced our budget before, and it’s how we’ll succeed again.

We’ll build on the savings we made from last week’s bipartisan budget agreement, while protecting the job-creating investments that are critical to our future.

We’ll find additional savings in our defense budget. Over the last two years, the Secretary of Defense has taken on wasteful spending that does nothing to protect our troops or our nation, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again.

We’ll reduce health care spending, and strengthen Medicare and Medicaid through common-sense reforms that will get rid of wasteful subsidies and increase efficiency.

We’ll reduce spending in our tax code with tax reform that’s fair and simple – so that the amount of taxes you pay doesn’t depend on how clever an accountant you can afford. And we should end the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, too. Because people like me don’t need another tax cut.

So that’s my approach to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years while protecting the middle class, keeping our promise to seniors, and securing our investments in our future. I hope you’ll check it out for yourself on And while you’re there, you can also find what we’re calling the taxpayer receipt. For the first time ever, there’s a way for you to see exactly how and where your tax dollars are spent, and what’s really at stake in this debate.

Going forward, Democrats and Republicans in Washington will have our differences, some of them strong. But you expect us to bridge those differences. You expect us to work together and get this done. And I believe we can. I believe we can live within our means and live up to the values we share as Americans. And in the weeks to come, I’ll work with anyone who’s willing to get it done.

Thanks for listening. Have a great weekend.


President Obama’s Framework for $4 Trillion in Deficit Reduction

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Please have a seat. Please have a seat, everyone.

It is wonderful to be back at GW. I want you to know that one of the reasons that I worked so hard with Democrats and Republicans to keep the government open was so that I could show up here today. I wanted to make sure that all of you had one more excuse to skip class. (Laughter.) You’re welcome. (Laughter.)

I want to give a special thanks to Steven Knapp, the president of GW. I just saw him -- where is he? There he is right there. (Applause.)

We've got a lot of distinguished guests here -- a couple of people I want to acknowledge. First of all, my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, is here. (Applause.) Our Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, is in the house. (Applause.) Jack Lew, the Director of the Office of Mangement and Budget. (Applause.) Gene Sperling, Chair of the National Economic Council, is here. (Applause.) Members of our bipartisan Fiscal Commission are here, including the two outstanding chairs -- Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson -- are here. (Applause.)

And we have a number of members of Congress here today. I'm grateful for all of you taking the time to attend.

What we’ve been debating here in Washington over the last few weeks will affect the lives of the students here and families all across America in potentially profound ways. This debate over budgets and deficits is about more than just numbers on a page; it’s about more than just cutting and spending. It’s about the kind of future that we want. It’s about the kind of country that we believe in. And that’s what I want to spend some time talking about today.

From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.

But there’s always been another thread running through our history -– a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.

And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire new industries. Each of us has benefitted from these investments, and we’re a more prosperous country as a result.
Part of this American belief that we’re all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves. And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, those with disabilities. We’re a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further. We would not be a great country without those commitments.

Now, for much of the last century, our nation found a way to afford these investments and priorities with the taxes paid by its citizens. As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally borne a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate. Everybody pays, but the wealthier have borne a little more. This is not because we begrudge those who’ve done well -– we rightly celebrate their success. Instead, it’s a basic reflection of our belief that those who’ve benefited most from our way of life can afford to give back a little bit more. Moreover, this belief hasn’t hindered the success of those at the top of the income scale. They continue to do better and better with each passing year.

Now, at certain times -– particularly during war or recession -– our nation has had to borrow money to pay for some of our priorities. And as most families understand, a little credit card debt isn’t going to hurt if it’s temporary.

But as far back as the 1980s, America started amassing debt at more alarming levels, and our leaders began to realize that a larger challenge was on the horizon. They knew that eventually, the Baby Boom generation would retire, which meant a much bigger portion of our citizens would be relying on programs like Medicare, Social Security, and possibly Medicaid. Like parents with young children who know they have to start saving for the college years, America had to start borrowing less and saving more to prepare for the retirement of an entire generation.

To meet this challenge, our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation’s deficit -- three times. They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush, then made by President Clinton, by Democratic Congresses and by a Republican Congress. All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice. But they largely protected the middle class; they largely protected our commitment to seniors; they protected our key investments in our future.

As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program -– but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts -– tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.

To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our nation’s checkbook, consider this: In the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years.

But that’s not what happened. And so, by the time I took office, we once again found ourselves deeply in debt and unprepared for a Baby Boom retirement that is now starting to take place. When I took office, our projected deficit, annually, was more than $1 trillion. On top of that, we faced a terrible financial crisis and a recession that, like most recessions, led us to temporarily borrow even more.

In this case, we took a series of emergency steps that saved millions of jobs, kept credit flowing, and provided working families extra money in their pocket. It was absolutely the right thing to do, but these steps were expensive, and added to our deficits in the short term.

So that’s how our fiscal challenge was created. That’s how we got here. And now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s. We have to live within our means. We have to reduce our deficit, and we have to get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and helps us win the future.

Now, before I get into how we can achieve this goal, some of you, particularly the younger people here -- you don't qualify, Joe. (Laughter.) Some of you might be wondering, “Why is this so important? Why does this matter to me?”

Well, here’s why. Even after our economy recovers, our government will still be on track to spend more money than it takes in throughout this decade and beyond. That means we’ll have to keep borrowing more from countries like China. That means more of your tax dollars each year will go towards paying off the interest on all the loans that we keep taking out. By the end of this decade, the interest that we owe on our debt could rise to nearly $1 trillion. Think about that. That's the interest -- just the interest payments.

Then, as the Baby Boomers start to retire in greater numbers and health care costs continue to rise, the situation will get even worse. By 2025, the amount of taxes we currently pay will only be enough to finance our health care programs -- Medicare and Medicaid -- Social Security, and the interest we owe on our debt. That’s it. Every other national priority -– education, transportation, even our national security -– will have to be paid for with borrowed money.

Now, ultimately, all this rising debt will cost us jobs and damage our economy. It will prevent us from making the investments we need to win the future. We won’t be able to afford good schools, new research, or the repair of roads -– all the things that create new jobs and businesses here in America. Businesses will be less likely to invest and open shop in a country that seems unwilling or unable to balance its books. And if our creditors start worrying that we may be unable to pay back our debts, that could drive up interest rates for everybody who borrows money -– making it harder for businesses to expand and hire, or families to take out a mortgage.

Here’s the good news: That doesn’t have to be our future. That doesn’t have to be the country that we leave our children. We can solve this problem. We came together as Democrats and Republicans to meet this challenge before; we can do it again.

But that starts by being honest about what’s causing our deficit. You see, most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but like the stuff that it buys. Most of us, regardless of party affiliation, believe that we should have a strong military and a strong defense. Most Americans believe we should invest in education and medical research. Most Americans think we should protect commitments like Social Security and Medicare. And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political instincts tell me that almost nobody believes they should be paying higher taxes. (Laughter.)

So because all this spending is popular with both Republicans and Democrats alike, and because nobody wants to pay higher taxes, politicians are often eager to feed the impression that solving the problem is just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse. You’ll hear that phrase a lot. “We just need to eliminate waste and abuse.” The implication is that tackling the deficit issue won’t require tough choices. Or politicians suggest that we can somehow close our entire deficit by eliminating things like foreign aid, even though foreign aid makes up about 1 percent of our entire federal budget.

So here’s the truth. Around two-thirds of our budget -- two-thirds -- is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security. Two-thirds. Programs like unemployment
insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20 percent. What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That’s 12 percent for all of our national priorities -- education, clean energy, medical research, transportation, our national parks, food safety, keeping our air and water clean -- you name it -- all of that accounts for 12 percent of our budget.

Now, up till now, the debate here in Washington, the cuts proposed by a lot of folks in Washington, have focused exclusively on that 12 percent. But cuts to that 12 percent alone won’t solve the problem. So any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget.

A serious plan doesn’t require us to balance our budget overnight –- in fact, economists think that with the economy just starting to grow again, we need a phased-in approach –- but it does require tough decisions and support from our leaders in both parties now. Above all, it will require us to choose a vision of the America we want to see five years, 10 years, 20 years down the road.

Now, to their credit, one vision has been presented and championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates. It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years, and one that addresses the challenge of Medicare and Medicaid in the years after that.

These are both worthy goals. They’re worthy goals for us to achieve. But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known certainly in my lifetime. In fact, I think it would be fundamentally different than what we’ve known throughout our history.

A 70 percent cut in clean energy. A 25 percent cut in education. A 30 percent cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That’s the proposal. These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren’t the kinds of cuts that the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kinds of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America that I believe in and I think you believe in.

I believe it paints a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic. It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them.

Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. They’re scrambling to figure out how they put more money into education. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but on biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the American people, the United States of America -– the greatest nation on Earth -– can’t afford any of this.

It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that 10 years from now, if you’re a 65-year-old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy the insurance that’s available in the open marketplace, well, tough luck -– you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

It’s a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. Who are these 50 million Americans? Many are somebody’s grandparents -- may be one of yours -- who wouldn’t be able to afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s syndrome. Some of these kids with disabilities are -- the disabilities are so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.

And worst of all, this is a vision that says even though Americans can’t afford to invest in education at current levels, or clean energy, even though we can’t afford to maintain our commitment on Medicare and Medicaid, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about that.

In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President. (Applause.)

This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don't think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That's not a vision of the America I know.

The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share. We’re a nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI Bill and we saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives. That’s who we are. This is the America that I know. We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit our investment in our people and our country.

To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

So today, I’m proposing a more balanced approach to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years. It’s an approach that borrows from the recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission that I appointed last year, and it builds on the roughly $1 trillion in deficit reduction I already proposed in my 2012 budget. It’s an approach that puts every kind of spending on the table -- but one that protects the middle class, our promise to seniors, and our investments in the future.

The first step in our approach is to keep annual domestic spending low by building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week. That step alone will save us about $750 billion over 12 years. We will make the tough cuts necessary to achieve these savings, including in programs that I care deeply about, but I will not sacrifice the core investments that we need to grow and create jobs. We will invest in medical research. We will invest in clean energy technology. We will invest in new roads and airports and broadband access. We will invest in education. We will invest in job training. We will do what we need to do to compete, and we will win the future.

The second step in our approach is to find additional savings in our defense budget. Now, as Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world. But as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has said, the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt. So just as we must find more savings in domestic programs, we must do the same in defense. And we can do that while still keeping ourselves safe.

Over the last two years, Secretary Bob Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again. We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but we’re going to have to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world. I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete.

The third step in our approach is to further reduce health care spending in our budget. Now, here, the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clearer. Their plan essentially lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead. Our approach lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.

Already, the reforms we passed in the health care law will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion. My approach would build on these reforms. We will reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments. We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency and speed generic brands of medicine onto the market. We will work with governors of both parties to demand more efficiency and accountability from Medicaid.

We will change the way we pay for health care -– not by the procedure or the number of days spent in a hospital, but with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results. And we will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services that seniors need.

Now, we believe the reforms we’ve proposed to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid will enable us to keep these commitments to our citizens while saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional $1 trillion in the decade after that. But if we’re wrong, and Medicare costs rise faster than we expect, then this approach will give the independent commission the authority to make additional savings by further improving Medicare.

But let me be absolutely clear: I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society. I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves. We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.

That includes, by the way, our commitment to Social Security. While Social Security is not the cause of our deficit, it faces real long-term challenges in a country that’s growing older. As I said in the State of the Union, both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations. But we have to do it without putting at risk current retirees, or the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market. And it can be done.

The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code, so-called tax expenditures. In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. We can’t afford it. And I refuse to renew them again.

Beyond that, the tax code is also loaded up with spending on things like itemized deductions. And while I agree with the goals of many of these deductions, from homeownership to charitable giving, we can’t ignore the fact that they provide millionaires an average tax break of $75,000 but do nothing for the typical middle-class family that doesn’t itemize. So my budget calls for limiting itemized deductions for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans -- a reform that would reduce the deficit by $320 billion over 10 years.

But to reduce the deficit, I believe we should go further. And that’s why I’m calling on Congress to reform our individual tax code so that it is fair and simple -- so that the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.

I believe reform should protect the middle class, promote economic growth, and build on the fiscal commission’s model of reducing tax expenditures so that there’s enough savings to both lower rates and lower the deficit. And as I called for in the State of the Union, we should reform our corporate tax code as well, to make our businesses and our economy more competitive.

So this is my approach to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. It’s an approach that achieves about $2 trillion in spending cuts across the budget. It will lower our interest payments on the debt by $1 trillion. It calls for tax reform to cut about $1 trillion in tax expenditures -- spending in the tax code. And it achieves these goals while protecting the middle class, protecting our commitment to seniors, and protecting our investments in the future.

Now, in the coming years, if the recovery speeds up and our economy grows faster than our current projections, we can make even greater progress than I’ve pledged here. But just to hold Washington -- and to hold me --- accountable and make sure that the debt burden continues to decline, my plan includes a debt failsafe. If, by 2014, our debt is not projected to fall as a share of the economy -– if we haven’t hit our targets, if Congress has failed to act -– then my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code. That should be an incentive for us to act boldly now, instead of kicking our problems further down the road.

So this is our vision for America -– this is my vision for America -- a vision where we live within our means while still investing in our future; where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all the burden; where we provide a basic measure of security for our citizens and we provide rising opportunity for our children.

There will be those who vigorously disagree with my approach. I can guarantee that as well. (Laughter.) Some will argue we should not even consider ever -- ever -- raising taxes, even if only on the wealthiest Americans. It’s just an article of faith to them. I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more. I don’t need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn’t need another tax cut. Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. Or by cutting kids from Head Start. Or by taking away college scholarships that I wouldn’t be here without and that some of you would not be here without.

And here’s the thing: I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to their country, a country that’s done so much for them. It’s just Washington hasn’t asked them to.

Others will say that we shouldn’t even talk about cutting spending until the economy is fully recovered. These are mostly folks in my party. I’m sympathetic to this view -- which is one of the reasons I supported the payroll tax cuts we passed in December. It’s also why we have to use a scalpel and not a machete to reduce the deficit, so that we can keep making the investments that create jobs. But doing nothing on the deficit is just not an option. Our debt has grown so large that we could do real damage to the economy if we don’t begin a process now to get our fiscal house in order.

Finally, there are those who believe we shouldn’t make any reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, out of fear that any talk of change to these programs will immediately usher in the sort of steps that the House Republicans have proposed. And I understand those fears. But I guarantee that if we don’t make any changes at all, we won’t be able to keep our commitment to a retiring generation that will live longer and will face higher health care costs than those who came before.

Indeed, to those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have an obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments. If we believe the government can make a difference in people’s lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works -– by making government smarter, and leaner and more effective.

Of course, there are those who simply say there’s no way we can come together at all and agree on a solution to this challenge. They’ll say the politics of this city are just too broken; the choices are just too hard; the parties are just too far apart. And after a few years on this job, I have some sympathy for this view. (Laughter.)

But I also know that we’ve come together before and met big challenges. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill came together to save Social Security for future generations. The first President Bush and a Democratic Congress came together to reduce the deficit. President Clinton and a Republican Congress battled each other ferociously, disagreed on just about everything, but they still found a way to balance the budget. And in the last few months, both parties have come together to pass historic tax relief and spending cuts.

And I know there are Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want to see a balanced approach to deficit reduction. And even those Republicans I disagree with most strongly I believe are sincere about wanting to do right by their country. We may disagree on our visions, but I truly believe they want to do the right thing.

So I believe we can, and must, come together again. This morning, I met with Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to discuss the approach that I laid out today. And in early May, the Vice President will begin regular meetings with leaders in both parties with the aim of reaching a final agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit and get it done by the end of June.

I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. This a democracy; that’s not how things work. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum. And though I’m sure the criticism of what I’ve said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all make an effort to bridge our differences and find common ground.

This larger debate that we’re having -- this larger debate about the size and the role of government -- it has been with us since our founding days. And during moments of great challenge and change, like the one that we’re living through now, the debate gets sharper and it gets more vigorous. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. As a country that prizes both our individual freedom and our obligations to one another, this is one of the most important debates that we can have.

But no matter what we argue, no matter where we stand, we’ve always held certain beliefs as Americans. We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves. We have to think about the country that made these liberties possible. We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community. And we have to think about what’s required to preserve the American Dream for future generations.

This sense of responsibility -- to each other and to our country -- this isn’t a partisan feeling. It isn’t a Democratic or a Republican idea. It’s patriotism.

The other day I received a letter from a man in Florida. He started off by telling me he didn’t vote for me and he hasn’t always agreed with me. But even though he’s worried about our economy and the state of our politics -- here’s what he said -- he said, “I still believe. I believe in that great country that my grandfather told me about. I believe that somewhere lost in this quagmire of petty bickering on every news station, the ‘American Dream’ is still alive…We need to use our dollars here rebuilding, refurbishing and restoring all that our ancestors struggled to create and maintain… We as a people must do this together, no matter the color of the state one comes from or the side of the aisle one might sit on.”

“I still believe.” I still believe as well. And I know that if we can come together and uphold our responsibilities to one another and to this larger enterprise that is America, we will keep the dream of our founding alive -- in our time; and we will pass it on to our children. We will pass on to our children a country that we believe in.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)