Obama Pledges Reform of Social Security, Medicare Programs

President-elect Barack Obama visited The Washington Post on Thursday for an interview before his inauguration Tuesday.Audio by The Washington Post
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare "bargain" with the American people, saying that the nation's long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.

That discussion will begin next month, Obama said, when he convenes a "fiscal responsibility summit" before delivering his first budget to Congress. He said his administration will begin confronting the issues of entitlement reform and long-term budget deficits soon after it jump-starts job growth and the stock market.

"What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further," he said. "We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's."

In a wide-ranging 70-minute interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, the president-elect pledged quick action on the Middle East once he takes office, promised to support voting rights for D.C. residents, and said he will consider it a failure if he has not closed the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by the end of his first term in office.

Obama repeated his advocacy of large and immediate government spending and tax breaks on the same day that House Democrats were announcing the details of an $825 billion stimulus package and the Senate voted to authorize the release of an additional $350 billion in funds under the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

He said that creating jobs and maintaining national security will be his top priorities and added that his efforts as president should be measured by whether the nation can overcome predicted job losses in the months ahead.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Obama said after being asked when the economy might begin to recover. "Nobody can tell." But he added: "Even with the stuff that we are doing, I think we can still anticipate that 2009 is going to be very tough."

Obama vowed to build a new financial regulatory system that inspires clarity and transparency, and endorsed the broad direction offered yesterday by a group led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker, an adviser to the incoming president.

The president-elect also gave his support for legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, but he said there may be other ways to achieve the same goal without angering businesses. And while many Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to see a quick vote on that bill, he indicated no desire to rush into the contentious issue.

"If we're losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize, so my focus first is on those key economic priority items I just mentioned," he said. "Let's see what the legislative docket looks like."

Obama repeated his assurance that there is "near-unanimity" among economists that government spending will help restore jobs in the short term, adding that some estimates of necessary stimulus now reach $1.3 trillion.

The president-elect said he believes that direct government spending provides the most "bang for the buck" and that his advisers have worked to design tax cuts that would be most likely to spur consumer and business spending.

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