Touche' Mr. President

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On March 24, 2009, in his second prime time news conference since taking office, President Barack Obama said his administration can cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. President Obama discussed many subjects during the conference including the economy, education,  federal procurement system reform focusing on Defense Department contracting, health care, energy, science and technology, infrastructure, and the AIG bonus controversy, to which he expressed the need to develop a system of control and prevention for such future debacles.

During the Q & A period, CNN’s Ed Henry was chosen by the President, at which time, Henry presented two questions. For his first, Henry, in a belligerent and accusatory way, inquired of the President, “You spoke again at the top about your anger about AIG.  You’ve been saying that for days now.  But why is it that it seems Andrew Cuomo seems to be in New York getting more actual action on it, and when YOU and Secretary Geitner first learned about this [AIG] ten days; two weeks ago, you didn’t go public immediately with that outrage. You waited a few days and then you went public after you realized Secretary Geitner really had no legal avenue to stop it.” Henry continued with his second question, probing the President’s criticism of Bush’s doubling of the national debt, stating, “You keep saying that you’ve ‘inherited a big fiscal mess.’ Do you worry though, that your daughters, not to mention the next President, will be inheriting an even bigger ‘fiscal mess’ if the spending goes out of control?”

Obviously, giving Henry a chance to withdraw the AIG question for Henry’s own protection, President Obama chose to answer the latter, with a lengthy yet substantive response touching on health information technologies, preventive care, cost control and quality outcomes as a criteria for reimbursement of programs, energy, education, restoration of the economy, stating, “If this were easy, then we would have already had it done and the budget would have been voted on and everybody could go home.” When President Obama did not respond to the former question, Henry, jumped on the President like a starving pit bull,  hastily increasing his aggression as he reiterated, “How about AIG! Why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage?” As the President opened up and began to answer the question, Henry cut the President off cold in mid-speech, concluding with, “It seems like the action is coming from New York in the Attorney General’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geitner and say, ‘Look, we’re outraged.’ Why did it take so . .  .?”  to which the President, smiling in a somewhat Cheshire manner responded, “It took me a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”  Immediately after his sharp reply, the President’s smile morphed into an icy peer, but not before an ovation of laughter rang out throughout the East Room of the White House, as President Barack Obama immediately redirected his attention to his next choice.

Class dismissed!

Further into the conference, the President called upon Kevin Chappell of Ebony who addressed the issue of homelessness in America asking President Obama “ . . . what he would say to the families, especially children, who are sleeping under bridges and in tents across the country,” to which the President responded,  “The first thing I’d say is that I’m heartbroken that any child in America is homeless.  The most important thing that I can do on their behalf is to make sure their parents have a job. That is why the recovery package set as a first priority how are we going to save or create 3.5 million jobs; how can we prevent layoffs for teachers and police officers; how can we make sure that we are investing in the infrastructure for the future that can put people back to work right away; how do we make sure that when people do lose their jobs that their unemployment insurance is extended that they can keep their health care, so there are a whole host of steps that we’ve done to provide a cushion for folks who have fallen on very hard times and to try to spur immediate projects that can put people back to work.  In the meantime, we’ve got to work very closely with the states to monitor and to help people who are still falling through the cracks. Part of the change in attitudes that I want to see here in Washington and all across the country is a belief that it is not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours and so, we’re going to be initiating a range of programs, as well, to deal with homelessness. One area in particular I want to focus on is the issue of veterans. The rate of homelessness among veterans is much, much higher than for non-veteran populations. So, we’ve got a number of the increases that we’re looking for in our budget on veterans funding directly addressing the issue of homeless veterans. That, I believe, can provide some real help.”

Jeanne Wyche is Managing Editor for The Black Star News and Harlem
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