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Obama Calls For 'Tough Budgetary Choices'

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

During a primetime news conference last night President Obama made his pitch to the nation to support his $3.6 trillion budget proposal. The president said the plan is vital to the nation's long term economic recovery. But lawmakers are already making big changes to Mr. Obama's budget. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Last night's news conference was the latest in a series of moves by the president to sell his economic agenda directly to the American people. There are no quick fixes he warned. But some of the steps his administration has already taken appear to be paying off. Mortgage rates are near record lows and home prices in some parts of the country appear to be leveling off. After a week of populist anger over big bonuses paid to executives of the troubled AIG company, Mr. Obama tried to find common ground between Wall Street and Main Street. It's a long rough road for everyone, he said, and one that's best traveled together.

President BARACK OBAMA: Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayer's dime is inexcusable; that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over. At the same time the rest of us can't afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's economic plans are meeting resistance this week on Capitol Hill even from members of his own party. The democratic chairman of the senate budget committee wants to scrap the president's signature tax cuts for working families after next year. The president said he never expected lawmakers to simply Xerox his spending proposal, but he believes the core investments in health care, education and alternative energy will be preserved.

President OBAMA: We got to make some tough budgetary choices. What we can't do though, is sacrifice long term growth - investments that are critical to the future.

HORSLEY: What worries some lawmakers is last week's warning from the congressional budget office that the President's budget would spill far more red ink than advertised. Mr. Obama's own forecasters have a somewhat rosier view of how fast the economy will grow in the future.

Pres. OBAMA: None of us know exactly what's going to happen six or eight or 10 years from now. Here is what I do know. If we don't tackle energy, if we don't improve our education system, if we don't drive down the cost of health care, if we are not making serious investments in science and technology and our infrastructure then we won't grow 2.6 percent, we won't grow 2.2 percent. We won't grow.

HORSLEY: Economic issues dominated the news conference. But the president was also asked about stem cell research, drug violence along the Mexican border and prospects for peace in the Middle East. Mr. Obama says the new hard-line government in Israel won't make the peace process any easier. But he takes heart from last week's St. Patrick's day gathering at the White House, where former enemies from Northern Ireland celebrated together.

Pres. OBAMA: And what that tells me is that if you stick to it, if you're persistent, then these problems can be dealt with.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says that philosophy is one he will come back to again and again. He said he is a great believer in persistence.

Pres. OBAMA: We haven't immediately eliminated the influence of lobbyists in Washington, we have not immediately eliminated wasteful pork projects, and we're not immediately going to get Middle East peace. We've been in office now a little over 60 days. What I am confident about is that we're moving in the right direction.

HORSLEY: And Mr. Obama said he plans to keep moving, even if there are some minor course corrections along the way.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: And if you want to hear the president's entire news conference, you can download it plus read a transcript at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.