President Obama today defended his administration's economic policies and said Republicans did not have a clear plan that would spur growth and help the middle class.
He made the remarks in an interview with Philadelphia-based Michael Smerconish, a radio host who endorsed him in the 2008 election. Smerconish described himself to MSNBC host Chris Jansing -- ahead of the airing of the interview on the cable channel -- as a registered independent who was not "here to carry the president's water," but not to denigrate him either.
Acknowledging that the economy still has a long way to go, the president argued that his party had a better plan for reducing unemployment and getting the nation's fiscal house in order than the opposition. "The key question for folks who are looking forward is: What is the agenda to bring about growth and expand our middle class over the next two years? And the fact of the matter is it's very hard to figure out from the Republicans what exactly that agenda would be."
The president also accused Republicans of proposing to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy in part by cutting education spending, a step he said would be bad for the nation's long-term economic health and competitiveness. "Nobody thinks, by the way, that Republicans actually have a very good track record when it comes to dealing with debt and deficits," he said. "The last time we had a balanced budget and surpluses was under a Democratic president, and they ran up the tab so that I inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit."
Obama said he expects the opposition to "take more responsibility" for governing should Republicans win additional seats in Congress. Most analysts expect Republicans to win enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives, but for Democrats to hold on to the Senate.
Today's chat with Smerconish was the latest in a blitz of radio and television interviews, as the president seeks to rev up his Democratic base and reach voters who might be on the fence.
Obama's interview with Univision's popular Spanish-language radio show Piolin por la Manana aired on Monday; he spoke with Rev. Al Sharpton on his radio show on Tuesday; and later today, he will tape an interview with Jon Stewart for "The Daily Show."
While the other radio interviews targeted voting groups that helped him win the presidency -- Hispanics, blacks, and young people -- Obama's discussion today with Smerconish seemed aimed at convincing swing voters, independents, and disaffected Democrats to continue to support members of Congress who will help Obama carry out his agenda, which will include "responsible" spending cuts.
"Part of what we have to recognize is, that over the last two years, we've had a brutal recession and a critical crisis that had to be addressed, and that did increase the deficit," he said, adding that help for states saved the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, and police officers.
When pressed on why America doesn't follow Britain's lead in making deep budget cuts to reduce the deficit, the president noted that the Brits had first instituted a stimulus package, while going on to say that everyone agreed it would be necessary to get control of the deficit. Obama said his proposal to freeze non-defense discretionary spending would lower the country's debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product to the lowest level in 50 years.
"What people are absolutely right about is that we've gotta make sure that moving forward we're doing so in a responsible way," he continued. "And the best way for us to do it is to do it with a scalpel -- not a machete -- and to make sure that the cuts we're making are not eliminating those things to help us grow."