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Obama stresses fiscal responsibility

From NBC's Athena Jones
President Obama returned to the theme fiscal responsibility in speeches today, while also arguing that health-care reform was essential to long-term deficit reduction.

In a morning speech to the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room, the president repeated the warning he gave to some 80 mayors last week to spend stimulus dollars wisely. He also announced he was asking Vice President Joe Biden to oversee the administration's efforts to implement the $787 billion recovery plan.

"Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in Washington these past few years, we cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to next budget, the next administration, or the next generation," he said. "That's why today I'm pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office."

Obama said he would reinstate the pay-as-you-go rule requiring any new expenditure to be set off by a cut in spending.

Today's events kicked off another big week for the president. Last week, he signed the stimulus bill and announced a plan to stem housing foreclosures. This week, he is set to address a joint session of Congress tomorrow night and will present his a budget he says will provide a "full and honest accounting of the money we plan to spend and the deficits we will likely incur."

He said this year's budget would represent "important progress towards fiscal responsibility," but he also noted that more must be done to address long-term challenges like the rising cost of health care, which he called the "single-most pressing fiscal challenge we face by far."

The administration plans to convene a health-care summit early next week. Today, Obama announced that states would be able to access $15 billion federal assistance starting Wednesday to help them cover the costs of Medicaid programs.

In a reference to some of the criticisms of the stimulus package from Republican governors like Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, a possible 2012 prospect, Obama said healthy debate was important, but that there was a lot of agreement about many elements of the plan and that using a "broad brush" to paint the bill as wasteful spending smacked of politics. There will be "ample time for campaigns down the road," he told the crowd.

The president signaled that other domestic issues like health care, education, and energy -- all of which were addressed by the stimulus package and legislation like the expansion of SCHIP signed into law last month -- would take center stage now that the recovery plan had passed.