Much has been made of CNN Correspondent Ed Henry’s AIG question and the President’s terse answer, but did anyone notice that Henry bucked protocol and asked two distinct and lengthy questions wrapped into one? Obama took on the second of Henry’s questions related to concern about the legacy of a crippling national debt, a “fiscal mess” that could be left behind for the next generation, but it was a question others had asked and that Obama had already answered in detail. I think Obama was a little irritated and could have said simply that he had already addressed it, but took it on anyway. When President Obama completed his answer, Henry asked a follow-up – essentially his third question, about his first question, which related to why the administration waited two days to express outrage over the AIG bonuses. The President responded curtly, but I think appropriately so.
In the end, Ed, you only get one question and a follow-up. Here’s the exchange and a link to the complete transcript. What do you think?
President Obama’s News Conference
Okay. Ed Henry. Where’s Ed? There he is.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. 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 Geithner first learned about this, 10 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 Geithner really had no legal avenue to stop it.
And more broadly — I just want to follow up on Chip and Jake — you’ve been very critical of President Bush doubling the national debt. And to be fair, it’s not just Republicans hitting you. Democrat Kent Conrad, as you know, said, quote, “When I look at this budget, I see the debt doubling again.” 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?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Of course I do, Ed, which is why we’re doing everything we can to reduce that deficit. Look, 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. This is hard. And the reason it’s hard is because we’ve accumulated a structural deficit that’s going to take a long time, and we’re not going to be able to do it next year or the year after or three years from now.
What we have to do is bend the curve on these deficit projections, and the best way for us to do that is to reduce health care costs. That’s not just my opinion; that’s the opinion of almost every single person who has looked at our long-term fiscal situation.
Now, how do we — how are we going to reduce health care costs? Because the problem is not just in government-run programs, the problem is in the private sector as well. It’s experienced by families. It’s experienced by businesses. And so what we’ve said is, look, let’s invest in health information technologies, let’s invest in preventive care, let’s invest in mechanisms that look at who’s doing a better job controlling costs while producing good-quality outcomes in various states, and let’s reimburse on the basis of improved quality as opposed to simply how many procedures you’re doing. Let’s do a whole host of things, some of which cost money on the front end but offer the prospect of reducing costs on the back end.
Now, the alternative is to stand pat, and to simply say we are just going to not invest in health care; we’re not going to take on energy, we’ll wait until the next time that gas gets to $4 a gallon; we will not improve our schools, and we’ll allow China or India or other countries to lap our young people in terms of their performance; we will settle on lower growth rates, and we will continue to contract both as an economy and our ability to — to provide a better life for our kids.
That I don’t think is the better option.
Now, have — am I completely satisfied with all the work that needs to be done on deficits? No. That’s why I convened a fiscal responsibility summit, started in this room, to start looking at entitlements and to start looking at the big drivers of costs over the long term. Not all of those are reflected in our budget, partly because the savings we anticipate would be coming in years outside of the 10-year budget cycle that we’re talking about. Okay?
QUESTION: So on AIG, why did you wait — why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I —
QUESTION: It seems like the action is coming out of New York in the attorney general’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we’re outraged. Why did it take so long?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak. (Laughter.) All right?
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