Obama on the Record: ‘Pay As You Go’

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you all for joining us here in the White House. Before I begin, I want to comment briefly on the announcement by the Treasury Department with regard to the financial stability plan.

As you know, through this plan and its predecessor, taxpayer dollars were used to stabilize the financial system at a time of extraordinary stress. And these funds were also meant to be an investment — and they were meant to be temporary. And that’s why this morning’s announcement is important.

Several financial institutions are set to pay back $68 billion to taxpayers. And while we know that we will not escape the worst financial crisis in decades without some losses to taxpayers, it’s worth noting that in the first round of repayments from these companies the government has actually turned a profit.

This is not a sign that our troubles are over — far from it. The financial crisis this administration inherited is still creating painful challenges for businesses and families alike. And I think everybody sees it in their own individual districts. But it is a positive sign. We’re seeing an initial return on a few of these investments. We’re restoring funds to the Treasury where they’ll be available to safeguard against continuing risks to financial stability. And as this money is returned, we’ll see our national debt lessened by $68 billion — billions of dollars that this generation will not have to borrow and future generations will not have to repay.

I’ve said repeatedly that I have no interest in managing the banking system — or, for that matter, running auto companies or other private institutions. So today’s announcement is welcome news to me. But I also want to say the return of these funds does not provide forgiveness for past excesses or permission for future misdeeds. It’s critical that as our country emerges from this period of crisis, that we learn its lessons; that those who seek reward do not take reckless risk; that short-term gains are not pursued without regard for long-term consequences.

At the same time, as we seek greater responsibility from those in the private sector, it’s my view — and the view of those who are standing behind me today, as well as those in the audience — that greater responsibility is required on the part of those who serve the public as well.

As a nation, we have several imperatives at this difficult moment in our history. We’re confronting the worst recession this country has faced in generations, and this has required extraordinary investments in the short term. Another imperative is addressing long-deferred priorities — health care, energy, education — which threaten the American economy and the well-being of American families. And we’ve begun to tackle these problems as well.

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