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State Of The Union Address Preview


Welcome to the program.

MELODY BARNES: Thanks so much for having me, Steve. It's a pleasure to be with you this morning.

INSKEEP: Great. Glad you're here. I want to get right to an issue that may be a subject of intense debate tonight and after tonight. Many Republicans in Congress have argued that cutting spending, federal spending, and shrinking the federal deficit is the most important thing that they can do right now to help the economy. Are they right?

BARNES: And at the same time, we'll all remember that this is the president that appointed the fiscal commission. He's quite serious about getting our financial house in order. But we have to balance those two things so we don't end up in a hole that we found ourselves in when we walked into office two years ago.

INSKEEP: Do you have proposals that you think you can get through this current Congress, where Republicans are much stronger than they were?

BARNES: Job creation is a top priority for the entire country, so we have to talk about ways that we're going to create those jobs. And, in fact, if you look at the work that we did during the lame-duck session, people are already talking about growths in the economy. We did that in a bipartisan fashion, and we did that in a way that we can spur jobs.

INSKEEP: Although, what investments in infrastructure is the president likely to propose here?

BARNES: So he'll be building on the kinds of themes that he's been talking about consistently.

INSKEEP: If those things are important to do, is the president going to propose spending cuts to offset those spending increases, so the deficit doesn't get worse?

BARNES: Well, again, making sure that we've got our financial house in order, that we are strengthening our economy for the future is something that the president is very, very serious about. Again, because of the work that he asked the fiscal commission to do, that he's asking my colleague OMB Director Jack Lew to do, and to do that in a bipartisan fashion, that's going to be - those are the building blocks for where we want to go in the future.

INSKEEP: But are you saying that to essentially lay the groundwork to argue that the spending needs to remain high for a little while longer and just argue that you're serious about cutting it later, is that essentially the argument you're making?

BARNES: It's about walking and chewing gum at the same time. You know, building the plane while we're flying it. And we're going to have to do these things consistently and consecutively.

INSKEEP: But just - you say consecutively, just so I understand: Do you want to cut the deficit right now, which is what some Republicans would want - many Republicans would want? Or are you saying let's cut the deficit later, but we need to spend now?

BARNES: I don't think the president would have appointed the fiscal commission if he weren't serious about looking at ways that we could address the deficit.

INSKEEP: But it's a question of timing: Now or later?

BARNES: Well, I think we're all going to have to listen to what the president says tonight. But again, these are smart investments. We have to address our financial issues so that we can make these investments and move forward and make sure that our economy is competitive, and that we're creating jobs. That's going to be the president's number one priority.

INSKEEP: Just got about 30 seconds here. But Carol Browner, the president's climate advisor, is leaving. Bill Daley is the new chief of staff, who's seen as very pro-business. People look at that and see a reshuffling of the economic team to become more business-friendly. In a few seconds, is that what the president is doing?

BARNES: And we're excited about Bill Daley coming in place and helping to set the direction under the president's leadership, as we think about taking responsibility for our deficits and investing in what is going to make America stronger.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much.

BARNES: Great. Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Melody Barnes is director of President Obama's Domestic Policy Council. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.