Obama holds virtual news conference

March 26, 2009 7:38:07 PM PDT
President Barack Obama has promised to go directly to the people to make the case for his multi-trillion dollar budget and Thursday he kept that promise as 67,000 people logged on for the president's first online town hall.

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In the middle of the great depression, President Franklin Roosevelt used the radio to communicate his famous fireside chats.

"We have a long way to go, but we are on the way," Roosevelt said.

In the middle of a deep recession, Obama turned to the Internet.

"Let's see how this thing works," Obama said at the start of the meeting.

The virtual town hall attracted more than a 100,000 questions to the White House Web site. More than 3.5 million votes determined the most popular, including questions about legalizing marijuana to boost the economy.

"I don't know what this says about the online audience," Obama said, joking about the popularity of the topic.

The answer was no, the president does not think it is a good strategy and he was far more interested today in talking up his budget priorities - money for health care reform, schools and college grants and a chance to answer critics who claim his budget runs up too much debt.

"Somebody could make the same argument to you that folks are making to us with respect to the budget, which is, 'you can't afford to be sending your kids to college right now that's fiscally irresponsible, you're taking on debt,'" Obama said.

ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain says the president is pulling out all the stops, a political tactic that can be akin to crying wolf.

"He can't do this for every issue and every legislative battle and I think they've decided that this budget is so critical that they're going to play their card this time," Cain said.

Congressional Republicans played their own card Thursday afternoon, delivering a budget outline, entitled the Republican Road to Recovery.

"While the president's budget is anti-stimulus, we believe our budget plan will strengthen the economy and restore fiscal sanity here in Washington," House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner said.

The 17-page plan says Republicans seek to ensure that the federal budget cannot grow faster than families' ability to pay the bill. To cut the deficit, it proposes eliminating a host of wasteful programs deemed ineffective. As for healthcare, it proposes to provide tax incentives for millions more working families and small businesses owners to obtain access to coverage.

The president's press secretary pointed out the GOP proposal does not include any numbers.

"It's interesting to have a budget that doesn't contain any numbers; we hope next time it will contain actual numbers so somebody can evaluate what it means," Robert Gibbs.

Republican congressional leaders say their budget numbers will be released next week.

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