WASHINGTON - 9 News anchor Carol Williams sat down with President Barack Obama for an exclusive interview Wednesday afternoon to discuss the historic budget proposal he sent to Congress Monday and how it affects the nation as well as residents of the Tri-State.
President Obama has said his budget of $3.73 trillion that intends to cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion over the next 10 years was made up of "tough choices" to get the country back on track. In the budget, the president proposes spending freezes on domestic programs, pay hike suspensions for federal civilian workers and new revenues from increased taxes on the wealthy and on oil and gas producers.
But many have criticized the budget, saying the president didn't cut enough from entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid.
What does it all mean to you and your fellow Tri-Staters? Carol Williams intended to find out.
Carol asked the president first about those entitlement programs that he was criticized for leaving out of his budget cuts.
"Mr. President, you have two young daughters and I have a 19-year-old myself," Carol started, "What kind of debt and what kind of future will they face if you and Congress don't reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?"
The president responded with pictures of the short and long term problems.
"The one that we can solve right now if we get together in a sensible kind of way is the amount of debt we're working with on an annual basis, our annual deficits," The president said. "My budget freezes spending for five years and what that does is solve the short term problem by saying we're not going to spend anymore money than we're taking in. That requires some painful cuts in certain areas, some cuts that I'd prefer not to have to do, but I think it's important for us to get that right."
The president addressed Social Security specifically, saying it is not really the country's big problem.
"Social Security we have to tweak a little bit but basically we can finance that well into the future," the president continued. "The big drivers of deficit and debt are Medicare and Medicaid, rising health care costs. That's part of the reasons we passed health care reform and the Congressional Budget Office, which is bipartisan, has already said that will take about a trillion dollars off the budget, but we're going to have to do more."
President Obama added remarks about getting Congress to come together and brainstorm about additional ideas so that, "Medicare and Medicaid are on firm footing without leaving this debt behind."
The President continued his remarks on entitlement programs by saying that if those programs are not reformed, "The interest alone is going to consume just about every aspect of our federal budget and we're going to have to have outrageously high taxes or cut some benefits that won't protect our seniors."
9 News asked viewers to submit a question for us to ask President Obama and we received an overwhelming response of well over 200 potential inquiries. Carol dug further into the Social Security issue by posing a question to President Obama submitted by 9 News viewer Jay Ford Johnston of Union, Ky. Johnston gets Social Security and Medicare and he is ready to share the pain, but he wants to know when the president is going to come up with a solution.
The president said he wants to make sure that changes strengthen the system and that the same amount of money going out is the same amount of money coming in.
"That's going to require a whole range of different ideas," President Obama said of the solution.
The president moved on to discussing Medicare being the more difficult of the entitlement programs.
"Medicare is a little tougher because it involves the health care system as a whole and that's why health reform was so important," President Obama said. "Just changing how hospitals incentivize their doctors on how to cut down infection rates, how many tests are taken, are they using health IT? All these complicated aspects of the health care system, we've got to make the system as a whole more efficient."
Tony Ross, the owner of a small trucking company called Steadfast Transport, says his health care costs went up 40 percent this year. Ross sent 9 News an e-mail questioning Obama's health care overhaul that the president said would lower these costs.
Ross asked, "How am I supposed to sustain any kind of growth or create jobs with that kind of year to year increase?"
Carol voiced Ross' concerns to the president.
"They actually will (go down)," President Obama started.
He explained that the rates will go down over time, but that Ross is eligible right now for tax credits on the premiums he is paying on his employees because of health care reform.
"He can get up to 35 percent deducted from his taxes and those credits are available right away," President Obama said. "Longer term, by 2014, he's going to be able as a small business to buy into a big pool, that includes by the way members of Congress, and