Q&A: Fiscal Summit

and thank you for doing this.  I think it’s very important.  This particular breakout session is — we had our — the Secretary of Homeland Security was our leader.  And so I think it was a very fruitful discussion.

Just one area that I wanted to mention that I think consumed a lot of our conversation on procurement was the issue of cost overruns in the Defense Department.  We all know how large the defense budget is.  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.

So we will — and I know that you’ve already made plans to try to curb some of the excesses in procurement.  We really have to do that.  We’re going to have to pay for Afghanistan, as you well know, and we’re not done in Iraq.  But most importantly, we 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.

And I thank you for the opportunity and sharing your thoughts with a lot of very smart people.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, John, let me — this is going to be one of our highest priorities.  By the way, I’ve already talked to Gates about a thorough review of the helicopter situation.  The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me.  (Laughter.)  Of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before — (laughter) — maybe I’ve been deprived and I didn’t know it.  (Laughter.)

But I think it is a — it is a — an example of the procurement process gone amuck.  And we’re going to have to fix it.  Our hope is, is that you, Senator Levin, and others, can really take some leadership on this.

And 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.  Those two things are not — they don’t always move in parallel tracks, and we’ve got to think that through.

Steny, you participated in the Social Security panel.

REPRESENTATIVE HOYER:  First off, I think that the Social Security section was a very, very productive section.  I think that there’s some honest, as you would think, disagreements, but as was indicated earlier, John Boehner, myself in particular, Lindsey Thomas —

THE PRESIDENT:  Lindsey Graham.  I don’t know about Lindsey Thomas, but I know Lindsey Graham.  (Laughter.)

REPRESENTATIVE HOYER:  Lindsey Graham.  (Laughter.)  South Carolina is not Louisiana, right?  I got you.  That’ll work.  (Laughter.)  But Lindsey Graham.  Everybody gave some very solid recommendations.  And I think there was in fact a consensus, an understanding of the different perspectives and ways and means to get to an objective was essentially that getting to an objective serves a number of purposes.  Obviously, from a fiscal standpoint it served a purpose, but also in giving both seniors

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