President Barack Obama is using the social website Facebook to promote his ideas on cutting the U.S. government deficit. The president’s visit Wednesday to Facebook headquarters in California was a recognition of the site’s growing political influence.
It is estimated that 600 million people around the world use Facebook. That is roughly twice the population of the United States.
President Obama tapped into that popularity Wednesday, by visiting the website’s base in Palo Alto, California, where he responded to questions in an online forum.
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The host of the event was Facebook’s 26-year-old billionaire founder and chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg. "Sorry, I am kind of nervous. We have the President of the United States here," Zuckerberg said.
Several questions concerned the federal deficit, which is projected to reach $1.6 trillion this year. The president says his plan would cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 to 12 years. Republican Representative Paul Ryan says his competing plan would slice about $4.4 trillion from the deficit in a similar period.
One Facebook employee in the audience asked Mr. Obama whether he thought his plan or Congressman Ryan’s was more bold and courageous.
"The Republican budget that was put forward, I would say, is fairly radical. I would not call it particularly courageous," the President said.
The president called the Republican plan shortsighted, and said it would cut too much from social programs and spending on economic development.
"I do think Mr. Ryan is sincere. I think he is a patriot. I think he wants to solve a real problem, which is our long-term deficit. But I think that what he and the other Republicans in the House of Representatives also want to do is to change our social compact in a pretty fundamental way," Mr. Obama said.
Republican leaders have charged that Democrats have spent too much over the years, and are not serious about reducing the deficit.
A new public opinion poll indicates that Mr. Obama needs some help in promoting his deficit-cutting plan. Fewer than four in every ten Americans surveyed for the ABC-Washington Post poll approve of the president’s handling of the deficit issue. Republicans in Congress fare worse, with only one in three Americans saying they are doing a good job in closing the shortfall.
The same poll has Mr. Obama’s overall approval rating at 47 percent, one of the lowest points of his presidency. However, it also shows him leading each of five potential Republican candidates, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, real estate mogul Donald Trump, former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
In 2008, the Obama campaign used Facebook to attract large numbers of young voters and campaign contributors. Leaders of the president’s 2012 re-election campaign hope to duplicate that success, with the huge expansion of the social media over the past four years.
In his opening remarks Wednesday, Mr. Obama acknowledged the growing power of Facebook and other social media.
"More and more people, especially young people, are getting their information through different media. And obviously, what all of you have built together is helping to revolutionize how people get information, how they process information, how they are connecting with each other," Mr. Obama said.
Only seven years after its founding, Facebook has an estimated value of $50 billion. The website was used prominently by pro-democracy activists in Egypt and Tunisia, and it is reported to be planning to enter the China market.
The president’s three-day Western tour is almost equally divided between public forums on deficit reduction and campaign fundraisers. With 17 months remaining before the election, Obama campaign organizers have said they hope to raise as much as $1 billion. Next year’s U.S. presidential campaign is expected to be the most expensive in history.