President Obama reaches out to young voters during Facebook town hall
(4/20) — UPDATED 22:16 PDT — PALO ALTO, CA — President Barack Obama fielded questions from Facebook employees and online viewers during an unprecendented online town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto Wednesday afternoon.
Fielding questions on the deficit, health care, immigration, and education, the president took the opportunity to make his pitch to the young voters who formed such an important part of his coalition in 2008. “Don’t get frustrated or cynical about our democracy,” he urged, insisting “we’ve made progress” during his term.
- PHOTOS: President Obama’s visit to the Bay Area
- AS IT HAPPENED: Live blog of President Obama’s visit
Obama pushes “balanced” approach to reducing federal deficit
The president used several questions about the federal deficit to push his plan to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion by cutting spending and raising taxes on the wealthy.
“Obviously, we’re having a very serious debate right now about the future direction of our country,” Obama said. He called it “very important for us to have a basic social safety net,” and said Republicans’ insistence on not increasing taxes would result in steep cuts to important programs.
Obama called the budget passed by House Republicans last week, which would cut more than $6 trillion from the federal budget and use some of the savings to lower taxes, “radical,” but not necessarily “courageous.” “It changes the social compact in a pretty fundamental way” by cutting social programs to lower taxes for the wealthy, he said.
“I guess you could call that bold. I would call it short-sighted,” Obama said.
Instead, the president urged the repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which he called a major factor in the expanding federal deficit over the last 10 years. “Going back to the [tax] rates that existed when Bill Clinton was president,” he said, would not damage the economy and “will do a lot” to help close the budget gap — though, in a nod to his young audience, Obama joked “a lot of you were still in diapers at that time.”
Obama also outlined $2 trillion in proposed cuts of his own, including cuts to defense spending. “Congress often stuffs weapons systems in the Pentagon budget that the Pentagon says we don’t need,” he said. The president said $400 billion had already been cut from the defense budget, and that he was hoping to cut $400 billion more.
The “balanced” approach to fixing the deficit, Obama said, would allow the country to invest in research, infrastructure, and education — all things that create jobs, the president said.
Education, health care, immigration on minds of questioners
With a young, highly educated, and technically minded audience in the room, the president used a question on education to emphasize the importance of science and technology education to the nation’s future.
“I always hear stories about how we can’t find enough engineers,” Obama said. “That means our education system isn’t working as it should.”
“I want to start making science cool,” he said, saying steps like holding a science fair at the White House and improving science and technology education for women and minorities could help improve the flow of scientists and engineers into industry.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who presided over the town hall, praised the Race to the Top program, where states competed for federal dollars by instituting reforms to their education systems.
“We need both money and reform,” Obama said. “It’s not an either-or proposition.”
When asked about rising health care costs, the president acknowledged the need to control health care inflation to address the budget deficit, but said Republican plans to repeal his health care reform law and replace Medicare with a voucher system would not work.
Republicans “want to push the cost of health care inflation on you” in the hope that this would produce downward pressure on health care costs, Obama said. But “you’re one person,” Obama said, claiming that individuals and small businesses lack the market power to drive costs down in the way that the government could.
Obama touted the use of technology to reduce paperwork and duplicated work in the medical system, and said provisions in the health care reform law that push Medicare to begin offering incentives for providing better care would help reduce medical costs. “I hope over the next five years, we’ll see significant savings,” he said.
And in response to a question on the DREAM Act, which would provide the children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, Obama reiterated his support for comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration “makes us strong” by bringing “ambitious people from around the world” to the United States, but at the same time, people “shouldn’t be cutting to the front of the line” through illegal immigration, he said.
The president said he would push to allow foreign students educated here to stay in the country — an issue which he said would help drive Silicon Valley innovation — and also promised to secure the border and provide a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants already in the country.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to achieve” a fair and equitable immigration system, Obama said.