By Erik Wasson - 04/19/11 03:35 PM EDT
President Obama on Tuesday told Virginia community college students that unless young people mobilize, special interests in Washington will balance the federal budget by slashing student aid and other education spending.
“I can’t afford to have all of you as bystanders,” Obama told a town-hall meeting at Northern Virginia Community College. "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. And if you are not heard, that’s exactly what’s going to happen."
He told students that Republicans want to cut Pell Grant scholarships with their budget, but that his own budget plan would increase education spending while reducing deficits by $4 trillion over 12 years.
“We are going to have to ask everyone to sacrifice, and if we are going to ask community colleges to sacrifice…then we can ask millionaires and billionaires to make a little sacrifice,” he said.
Young voters backed Obama in droves in 2008 and will be important to his reelection effort in 2012. Polls suggest Obama's support is stronger with voters younger than 40 than it is with voters older than 40.
Obama also warned that future Medicare recipients would pay more for their healthcare under the GOP plan, continuing an argument he launched with a speech on the deficit next week.
“Their main plan to reduce long-term deficits and debt is to turn Medicare into a voucher system,” Obama explained. “That would fundamentally change Medicare as we know it, and I’m not going to sign up for that.”
No one now older than 55 would be affected by the GOP plan, which would start after 2022. Under the GOP plan approved by the House last week, people now younger than 55 would then not participate under traditional Medicare, but would instead choose from private plans and the government would provide a subsidy toward the cost of the insurance premiums. This premium support is capped and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated seniors will pay dramatically more out of pocket as healthcare costs rise.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in response to the Obama event that the president had once again failed to adequately detail how he would cut spending even as he proposed tax increases that will hurt job growth.
“The President’s plan to increase taxes is a direct assault on job creation and innovation that could throw our economy in reverse. Virginians don’t want their taxes raised, what they want is for Washington to start getting serious about its finances, which is why President Obama should work with us to cut spending, reform our tax code and rule out raising taxes,” he said.
Obama wants to end Bush tax rates for wealthier taxpayers as part of his vision for reducing the deficit.
The Tuesday event is the first of three town-hall meetings Obama will hold this week on his new deficit-reduction plan. Obama will hold meetings in Reno, Nev., and at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
He told the town-hall his plan calls for “shared prosperity through shared sacrifice” and he is “optimistic” both parties can agree on a deficit reduction plan.
“Both Democrats and Republicans agree we need to reduce our deficit…the debate is about how we reduce our deficit,” he said.
He said the 2011 spending deal with House Republicans on April 8 was a “good start” to build on.
The White House has scheduled deficit talks to begin under Vice President Joe Biden on May 5, with a goal of coming up with a plan by July.
At the Virginia town-hall event, Obama reiterated his view that Social Security is not a driver of the deficit and that it should be dealt with separately from the Biden talks.