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President Obama’s Facebook Town Hall: Engagement, the Budget, and Economic Growth

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President Obama has been holding town hall conversations this week to discuss the future of our country. It has been clear from both the President’s remarks and the questions asked that Americans are following the current debate on our country’s budget and fiscal situation and are concerned about the need for continued economic progress.

As yesterday’s town hall at Facebook's headquarters in San Francisco kicked off, President Obama pointed out the significance of using technology to connect with young people and the importance of being well informed: 

And historically, part of what makes for a healthy democracy, what is good politics, is when you’ve got citizens who are informed, who are engaged. And what Facebook allows us to do is make sure this isn’t just a one-way conversation; makes sure that not only am I speaking to you but you're also speaking back and we're in a conversation, were in a dialogue. So I love doing town hall meetings. This format and this company I think is an ideal means for us to be able to carry on this conversation.

The President fielded a question from Lauren from Detroit about job creation and America’s economic recovery, the need to increase federal investments in targeted areas, and the shift to a debate about spending cuts and the deficit. Here’s the President’s response:

Well, you’re exactly right that when I first came into office our number-one job was preventing us from getting into another Great Depression. And that was what the Recovery Act was all about. So we helped states make sure that they could minimize some of the layoffs and some of the difficult budget choices that they faced.  We made sure that we had infrastructure spending all around the country. And, in fact, we made the biggest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System.

We made the largest investment in history in clean energy research, and it’s really paying off. For example, when I came into office, we had about 2 percent of the advanced battery manufacturing here in America. And as everybody here knows, what’s really holding us back from my goal of a million electric vehicles on the road is that battery technology is still tough. It’s clunky; it’s heavy; it’s expensive. And if we can make significant improvements in battery technology then I think the opportunities for electric vehicles, alternative vehicles that are much cheaper -- our opportunities are limitless.

The President noted that the economy is now growing again, though still more can be done. Because the recession occurred while our country was already carrying a debt, however, that burden could end up slowing our recovery without a serious approach to balance our checkbook:

Anybody every driven a clutch car? I mean, you got to sort of tap and -- well, that’s sort of what we faced in terms of the economy, right? We got to hit the accelerator, but we’ve got to also make sure that we don’t gun it; we can’t let the car slip backwards. And so what we’re trying to do then is put together a debt and deficit plan that doesn’t slash spending so drastically that we can’t still make investments in education, that we can’t still make investments in infrastructure -- all of which would help the economy grow.

In December, we passed a targeted tax cut for business investment, as well as the payroll tax that has a stimulus effect that helps to grow the economy. We can do those things and still grow the economy while having a plan in place to reduce the deficit, first by 2015, and then over the long term. So I think we can do both, but it does require the balanced approach that I was talking about.

If all we’re doing is spending cuts and we’re not discriminating about it, if we’re using a machete instead of a scalpel and we’re cutting out things that create jobs, then the deficit could actually get worse because we could slip back into another recession.

You can click here to read the full transcript from yesterday’s Facebook town hall.