Q&A: Fiscal Summit

Castellani –

THE PRESIDENT:  We saw each other the other day.

MR. CASTELLANI:  Yes.  I was in the health care discussion.  And the one thing that we all agreed on was that it is absolutely imperative for both fiscal reasons, as well as personal reasons and competitive reasons, to move forward on health care.  We simply cannot afford as a nation, and we certainly cannot afford as businesses to maintain the status quo, because it is unsustainable.

And I think as Bill pointed out, and has certainly been pointed out by the people that were participating in it all — the Senators and members — there are a lot of good ideas out there.  The time is now to put those good ideas down on a piece of legislation and move forward so we have something that delivers quality health care to everybody in this country in a way that everybody can afford.

THE PRESIDENT:  Business leadership I think is going to be critical.  Andy Stern is sitting right to next to you.  Andy, you’ve been working on this front for a long time.  You got some thoughts?

MR. STERN:  I mean, I just want to say that I am sitting next to John, because he and I and Bill Novelli and others really have built a relationship over a long period of time, because we don’t see this as a Democratic problem or a Republican problem — it’s just an American problem.  And it’s time to solve it.  And (inaudible) and I and business and labor and others can come together outside the Congress, it really is time for the Congress to get this job done, because the American people need it.

THE PRESIDENT:  Nice scarf, by the way.  (Laughter.)

David Walker.  Where’s David?

MR. WALKER:  Mr. President, it’s an honor to be here.  Thank you for your leadership.

You touched in your remarks on our balance sheet.  As a former comptroller general of the United States I can tell you we’re $11 trillion in the hole on the balance sheet.  And the problem is not the balance sheet, it’s off the balance sheet — $45 trillion in unfunded obligations.

You mentioned in January about the need to achieve a grand bargain involving budget process, Social Security, taxes, health care reform.  You are 110 percent right.  We need to do that.  The question is, how do we do it?  Candidly, I think it’s going to take some type of an extraordinary process that engages the American people, that provides for fast-track consideration.  And with your leadership, that can happen.  But that’s what it’s going to take, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I appreciate that.  And again, when we distribute the notes coming out of these task forces, I want to make sure that people are responding — both in terms of substance, but also in terms of process, because we’re going to need both in order to make some progress on this one.

Q    Mr. President, it was kind of a surprise in the procurement group that was together, we had almost universal recognition that

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