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Obama Takes Deficit-Reduction Plan On The Road


President Obama is taking his deficit-reduction plan on the road. Today he holds a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Yesterday he was in Virginia, answering questions from voters. NPR's National Political Correspondent, Mara Liasson, reports.

MARA LIASSON: President Obama was at Northern Virginia Community College to spread the word that he had a plan to control the deficit by cutting spending, protecting Medicare, and raising taxes on the rich. He said he was sure, despite their differences, he could forge a compromise with the Republicans since both sides already agreed to cut about $4 trillion over ten years.

President BARACK OBAMA: The big question that is going to have to be resolved is, how do we do it? And there is - I dont want to lie to you, there is a big philosophical divide right now. I believe that youve got to do it in a balanced way. I believe that youve got to, yes, have spending cuts, but you cant cut things like education, or basic research, or infrastructure - down to the bone.

LIASSON: The debt and deficit are the number one preoccupation inside Washington. But that's not always true outside the beltway. At the Annandale town hall, like a lot of other places, it was gas prices and energy. Mitchell Holliman is a computer engineering student who came to hear the president.

Mr. MITCHELL HOLLIMAN (Computer Engineering Student): Im really concerned about the clean energy solutions, because with the deficit that we have, most of those solutions and alternatives are far more expensive than the things that we have in place now. So how are we going to reduce the deficit, and at the same time, develop clean energy alternatives?

LIASSON: The president has been touring the country touting investment in clean energy technology as a long term solution to high gas prices. But in the short term, there's very little he can do. There's no single silver bullet, he said.

President OBAMA: And if youre driving, out of necessity, 50 miles a day to work, and you cant afford to buy some fancy new hybrid car so youre stuck with the old beater that is getting you eight miles a gallon, thats pretty frustrating. Now, I wish I could tell you that there was some easy, simple solution to this.

LIASSON: That wasn't good enough for Neil Barrientos, a radiology student.

Mr. NEIL BARRIENTOS (Radiology Student): Were spending so much money on gas, you see it going up and up and up and up. And, you know, when is it going to stop? But what I would have liked to have heard was more about what exactly is he going to do about the gas prices and how hes going to stop that.

LIASSON: Kulsoom Fazal, a biology major, wasn't satisfied either. She expects the president to do something about prices - now.

Ms. KULSOOM FAZAL (Biology Major): The government should enforce the gas prices. And make sure, you know, in California its like four dollars and 20 cents, and like here it's like a little bit lower. And its different all across the country. So he should make sure, you know, its lower.

LIASSON: But Denis Shanta, a nursing student who's graduating in two weeks, is more sympathetic.

Mr. DENIS SHANTA (Nursing Student): There is no easy solution. You can dump money into research to try and come up with alternative fuels. But then thats money that really could be used for Medicare or Medicaid. You could, you know, allow more offshore drilling, but then we just went through that whole horrible situation in the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes you're in a catch-22 situation where, no matter what you decide, there's gonna be something that is not beneficial on the other end of that decision. So, you can't hold them responsible.

LIASSON: President Obama - who begins his reelection campaign with an approval rating under 50 percent - can only hope more voters are as forgiving as that. Mara Liasson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.