He spoke as his Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, made a series of television appearances designed to calm any lingering anxiety in the financial markets stemming from a leading ratings agency’s warning about the long-term health of the U.S. economy.
Geithner disagreed with Standard & Poor’s “negative” assessment of the U.S. economic outlook issued Monday and emphasized that there is an “emerging consensus on how much we have to do” to reduce the deficit, a potentially hopeful sign Obama stressed in his own public appearance.
“I believe that Democrats and Republicans can come together to get this done,” Obama told a largely friendly audience at the college in Annandale. “It won’t be easy. There are going to be some fierce disagreements. Shockingly enough, there will be some politics played along the way.”
But, he continued, “I’m optimistic. I’m hopeful. Both sides have come together before. I believe we can do it again.”
Obama’s town-hall-style event was the first of three scheduled this week, all on the theme of the country’s poor fiscal health and his plan to change it. He leaves Wednesday for California, where he will hold a forum at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, and then he travels to Reno, Nev.
His message aimed at the middle class — whether in trying to feel its pain over rising gas prices or pledging to preserve Social Security for coming generations — amounted to an early rehearsal of the argument he will be making in the months ahead for why he deserves a second term.
The challenge Obama faces in selling his plan — and, by extension, his reason for reelection — is evident in his sinking approval rating weighed down largely by enduring public pessimism over the economy.
In that spirit, Obama tempered his optimism Tuesday with a populist warning designed to bring the concerned students, teachers and others gathered inside the college auditorium off the sidelines for the fight ahead, not only over fiscal policy but also his reelection effort, which he has tied tightly to that debate.
“There are powerful voices in Washington. There are powerful lobbies and special interests in Washington. And they’re going to want to reduce the deficit on your backs,” Obama said. “And if you are not heard, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
He pledged to protect education funding and tuition credits, find savings in waste at the Pentagon and in ineffective social programs that he said members of his party must be willing to eliminate, invest more in clean-energy technology and infrastructure to help business, and ask America’s wealthiest to pay higher taxes.