The Washington Post

Obama will talk debt at U-Md. town hall

President Obama will host a town hall meeting at University of Maryland on Friday to make his case for why he is pushing Congress for a “grand bargain” solution, 12 days before the United States faces a potentially catastrophic financial default.

Obama is set to appear at 11 a.m. at the 1,200-seat Ritchie Coliseum in College Park, in front of a mixed crowd of students, faculty and other locals. General admission seats were distributed within about 1 1 / 2 hours after the ticket booth opened, university spokesman Milree Williams said. A few dozen students camped out overnight.

After weeks of intense negotiations with Congress, Obama will tell the audience that now is the time for a major deficit reduction package that includes a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

“It’s a great opportunity for him to talk to young people, to students, about how this is really a debate about the economy and jobs and the need to stabilize the foundation of the economy and creating jobs and lessening the economic anxiety out there, felt by students,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday at his daily news briefing.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) was among the crowd waiting for Obama at the Ritchie Coliseum.

“The president cannot be put in the position of bargaining away jobs, the [economic] recovery or the social safety net of Medicaid and Medicare in order for the country to pay our bills,” O’Malley said in an interview. “People don’t expect Congress to agree all the time, but on some fundamental responsibilities they do expect them to agree.”

O’Malley noted that he and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), along with their respective state legislatures, balanced their budgets to maintain high-level bond ratings.

“We both made tough decisions . . . and all of that goes out the window if the extreme wing of the federal government forces us to default,” O’Malley said.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed low public confidence in Obama and his Republican counterparts. Six in 10 don’t think the president is doing enough to compromise and solve the budding crisis.

Obama’s approval rating is at 47 percent, just a point above his all-time low, according to the same poll. Forty-two percent of respondents said they would hold the GOP responsible if a deal is not brokered, however, compared with 36 percent who would blame Obama.

Though Obama has been pushing for the “grand bargain,” he and House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday appeared to be closing in on a new version of a large deal that would save roughly $3 trillion over the next decade, but include no immediate revisions to the tax code. That plan has angered some Democrats.

Kaiyi Xie, University of Maryland’s incoming student body president, said students are concerned about the rising costs of public education. The student government association is working on a plan to reduce the cost of textbooks, he said.

Xie, 20, said students expect the president and Congress to strike a debt deal that does not erode the economy.

“In 10 to 20 years, my generation will feel the brunt of whatever happens now,” Xie said. “We are all concerned, especially about issues regarding higher ed programs.”

Xie added that Obama appealed to young people when he ran in 2008 because his message of hope and change touched a chord. Now, “he’ll probably have a different message than before. Many students still generally support him, but there are others who are probably disillusioned,” Xie said.

Carney said Obama will try to reassure the young people at the town hall about entitlement programs that will be important to them decades from now.

“There is a lot of doubt among younger Americans whether or not those kinds of programs that protect folks in old age, such as Social Security and Medicare, will be there for them,” Carney said. “The president will make the case that he is committed to ensuring those will be there and will be strong and provide benefits to their generation.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.


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