This is big -- the President today promised that by the end of his first term, he will cut in half the massive federal deficit we've inherited. And we'll do it in a new way: honestly and candidly.
"This will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected," President Obama said. "But I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay -- and that means taking responsibility right now, in this administration, for getting our spending under control."
Before we turn this boat around, we've got to acknoweldge how deep underwater we are:
"For too long, our budget process in Washington has been an exercise in deception -- a series of accounting tricks to hide the extent of our spending and the shortfalls in our revenue and hope that the American people won't notice.... budgeting zero dollars for the Iraq war -- zero -- for future years, even when we knew the war would continue; budgeting no money for natural disasters, as if we would ever go 12 months without a single flood, fire, hurricane or earthquake."
"We do ourselves no favors by hiding the truth about what we spend," the President said. "In order to address our fiscal crisis, we're going to have to be candid about its scope."
As the summit concluded, the President took questions and comments from the assembled members of Congress and the business and non-profit communities. He started with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who emphasized the need to cut excess from defense spending -- citing as an example reports that the two-year-old plan to overhaul the fleet of Marine One helicopters had gone significantly over-budget.
"We all know how large the defense budget is," Sen. McCain said. "We all know that the cost overruns -- your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One. I don't think that there's any more graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money...[W]e have to make some tough decisions -- you, Mr. President, have to make some tough decisions about not only what we procure, but how we procure it."
"The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me. Of course, I've never had a helicopter before -- maybe I've been deprived and I didn't know it," the President joked, before continuing with a more serious response. "But I think it is an example of the procurement process gone amuck. And we're going to have to fix it....One of the promising things is I think Secretary Gates shares our concern and he recognizes that simply adding more and more does not necessarily mean better and better, or safer and more secure."