President Obama sat down with an interviewer from YouTube Monday afternoon to sell his $3.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2011. It’s the latest step by an administration relentlessly focused on finding new ways to connect with the public.
During the session in the White House Library, Obama sat down with YouTube News and Political Director Steve Grove, who is also a former Boston Globe reporter, and responded to questions submitted by YouTube users. Some 11,000 questions were submitted by video and text, the White House said. On CitizenTube, YouTube’s political platform, users cast 640,000 votes on which questions were best.
YouTube selected some of the highest-rated questions in various topics, including college, jobs, the environment and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama answered questions for about an hour, and this is the first time a president has taken questions directly from the public on the day the federal budget is released. The president’s answers were streamed live at YouTube.com and at WhiteHouse.gov.
The 2011 budget in its brief version covers 179 pages. A second book contains tables – some 362 pages of them. And the appendix, containing full detail, is the size of a major city phone book – sprawling more than 1,413 pages.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a Politico interview that the administration wants to go beyond the audience for newspapers, news magazines and network news outlets – all of which, he said, are “way down.”
A Texas questioner asked why the health care debate hasn’t been on C-SPAN, and Obama said it’s hard to film all the different health care meetings in and out of Congress. And he said he is “making sure that in this last leg, this last five yards before we get to the goal line, that everybody understands exactly what’s going on in the health care bill, that there are no surprises, no secrets.”
Interviewer Grove and Obama sat on either side of a flat-screen TV. Meanwhile, a computer off to the side monitored the live comments coming via YouTube and Twitter (though the interview didn’t incorporate this live feedback). Grove used a silver MacBook.
Grove asked about the budget, and Obama said, “I announced the budget and no one threw rotten eggs.” He added, “Budget day is like tax day.”
One resident asked if the 40 million uninsured will get insurance this year. Obama said, “We are calling on our Republican colleagues to get behind a serious health reform bill.”
Also, YouTube showed two videos from small businesses that are having trouble in this economy. Obama laid out his plan for a hiring tax credit and how health care reform will greatly unburden small business.
Then a man from Florida asked why banks are slow to modify home loans. Obama agreed that banks need to do more and that he’ll put more pressure on them.
Obama was then asked whether he thought different topics were good or bad ideas.
He said that the privatization of government agencies like the post office would be a bad idea, and he said that installing solar panels on all federal and state buildings would be a good idea.
Asked whether he believes in a free and open Internet, he said, “I’m a big believer in net neutrality.”
Then a college student told Obama that he has 14 credits and three part-time jobs. “College tuition costs are crushing a lot of folks,” Obama said before he outlined his recent plan to cut down student debt.
In addition, a citizen asked how Obama can withdraw troops and effectively combat terrorism at the same time. Obama emphasized that al-Qaeda is his main target and that the 30,000 troop surge will be training Afghan forces.
Asked why he wants to close the prison in Guantanamo, Obama said that the prison has been a huge recruiting tool for terrorists. “Unfortunately there’s been a lot of political resistance, and frankly some of it is politically motivated,” he said.
Another person asked why the government continues to invest in dirty coal, drilling and nuclear reactors, and Obama said he is pushing for clean alternative energies. “Unfortunately, no matter how fast we ramp up those energy sources, we’re still going to have enormous energy needs that will be unmet by alternative energy,” he said.
Obama ended the YouTube session by saying he hopes “we can do this on a more regular basis.”