(Story updated with more highlights from Obama town hall meeting)
WASHINGTON, D.C. (
) -- At the "Investing in America" town hall meeting, President Barack Obama said the road to economic and job recovery will be "slow and steady" rather than a "quick fix."
The meeting was being held at the Newseum, a monument to the First Amendment and a few blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
"It took us a decade to come into the problem we have now," Obama explained. He said middle class Americans are hurting right now and that the challenge right now is to put make sure the "trend lines" continue in a positive direction.
That said, Obama told Town Hall participants that a tax cut bill is in place, as are proposals to accelerate investment in the U.S. instead of overseas to "put people back in work." Obama mentioned wanting tax relief for 97% of Americans, for everyone earning up to $250,000.
"We've passed eight tax cuts for small business so far. We will give you a tax break if you offer healthcare to your workers."
Obama said currently 60% of "our budget is entitlements -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The biggest driver of our long term deficits is Medicare."He added that the U.S. needs to have a balanced budget: "U.S. veterans need healthcare? It costs money. Research and development spending? We've got to make those investments. Infrastructure expansion? Europe spends 5% of their GDP, China 9%, on infrastructure. We spend 2%. It's why bridges fall and highways fall apart. No such thing as free lunch."
asked readers, should tax cuts for Americans earning more than $250,000 annually be allowed to expire? Most said no.
Audience members included CEOs, union workers, teachers and students and small business owners. One audience member, who identified herself as a member of middle class America, worried about her "new reality."
In response, Obama said, "If we can keep our eye on the long term goal -- middle class can pay their bills, retire with dignity and respect, not yet in the middle class but moving up -- that's our goal. That's the America I believe in."
Another audience member, Kenneth Langone, the founder of small investment bank
, asked Obama if he has been vilifying business. Obama said he wasn't, in part evidenced by the institution of 50 tax cuts, "many to businesses large and small."
At the same time, he added, "we don't want to have to make a choice between the economy failing or banks 'too big to fail' failing."
As Obama answered audience questions,
live blog participants gave feedback with comments such as "he can't even answer the first staged question" and "he started strong with message of 'I am pushing policy for the next 10 to 15 years, not the next election.' He needs to stick with this and push it hard."
Meanwhile, John Harwood of CNBC asked Obama, "Do you think working for profit is morally inferior to work you used to do as a community worker?" Obama answered, "No. The free market has to be preserved. We benefit from entrepreneurs. Government can't create all the jobs."
Other highlights of the meeting included Obama's responses to topics related to Main Street vs. Wall Street, Iran and the Chinese currency. One hedge fund manager told Obama, the Wall Street community has felt like a "piñata" since the financial crisis began, but Obama responded by saying that while hedge fund managers took home $1 billion in the aftermath of the financial crisis, millions were still out of work.
"When 8 million people lost their jobs, you shouldn't be feeling put upon," Obama said. He told the hedge fund manager that Main Street also feels beat up upon.
On Iran, Obama said the country having a nuclear weapon would be a big problem. "A war between Israel and Iran would not be an ideal solution, but we are keeping options on the table," he warned.
Regarding concerns about the cheap Chinese currency, Obama said the U.S. has already asked the country to let its currency rise, but hasn't seen any action from China. "Our trade relationship has to be fair," he said. Still, Obama noted that China is good for the U.S. "It's a huge market where we can sell our goods."
As the town hall meeting came to an end, Reimer reported various reactions to the event by CNBC commentators, including views that Obama worked to reach out to a broad range of people while holding his ground. "The president did not personalize it," Jim Cramer said. "I like that he did keep coming back to growth. He didn't attack anyone. It was benign and benign is a win."
-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.
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