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Obama says he should have advertised policies better

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Obama: I should have advertised better
  • NEW: Obama includes some digs at Republicans
  • The president takes part in a backyard event Thursday
  • Participants ask friendly questions and offer support
  • Obama says his focus was on getting policies right

Seattle, Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama told a friendly backyard gathering on Thursday that he was so focused on getting the policy right on helping the economy recover that he didn't devote enough energy to advertising the benefits.

Asked about the negative perception many Americans have about signature legislation of his first two years in office, Obama said opponents of reform fought hard against it and he could have done more to sell it.

On such a complicated issue as health care reform, Obama said, the administration knew opponents would offer distortions in opposing the bill.

With provisions of the reform bill starting to take effect, people now can see the benefits for themselves and therefore understand it better, he said.

His government must continue "beating the drum and clarifying what's in the bill," he said, noting that negative advertisements that lack specifics can influence public opinion.

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Obama said the stimulus bill, officially titled the Recovery Act, comprises provisions that people like -- such as tax cuts, infrastructure development and clean energy investments.

When passing the bill shortly after taking office, he said, the administration had to move quickly to deal with several crises involving the aftermath of the financial collapse and recession.

"I think that one of the challenges we had two years ago was we had to move so fast, we were in such emergency mode, that it was very difficult for us to spend a lot of time doing victory laps and advertising exactly what we were doing, because we had to move on to the next thing," Obama said. "And I take some responsibility for that."

The attitude was to get the policy right, "and we did not always think about making sure we were advertising properly what was going on," Obama continued.

Republicans have made opposition to the stimulus bill, health care reform and other major legislation a focus of their campaign for the upcoming congressional elections. They say Obama's policies have increased spending and expanded the federal deficit without bringing down the unemployment rate.

Obama said concerns about the national debt and budget deficits were legitimate, but that the issue was being framed incorrectly as a problem he caused.

"The problem I have with the argument, the way it's playing out right now in the country, is that there's a suggestion on the other side that somehow the problem with our debt and our deficits all arose magically the minute I took office, whereas in fact, when I arrived at the White House I was inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit," Obama said.

Fixing the problem is going to require tough choices, Obama said, adding that he didn't hear any helpful solutions coming from Republicans.

"It's interesting now when you listen to the Republicans talk about out-of-control government spending, and then you ask them, well, what would you cut, and there's this deafening silence," Obama said.

He then listed Republican proposals for how to eliminate the budget deficit, adding the reasons why he thinks each would be bad ideas.

"They'll say things like, well, we'll roll back health care -- except it turns out that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the health care bill is actually going to reduce our deficit by over a trillion dollars over the next 20 years, so that would add to the deficit," Obama said.

"Then they'll say, well, we'll pull back the unused portion of the stimulus," he continued. "Well, first of all, most of it has already been spent and a big chunk of what hasn't been spent are actually tax cuts, which they say they're for. "

The event consisted of supportive questions and comments in the yard of a Seattle-area family, along with some lighthearted moments.

When introducing Jody Hall, who started Cupcake Royale in the Seattle area, Obama said: "I don't know if she brought any samples."

Hall responded that she did bring samples, "but you have some serious security."

Obama then suggested that his security team confiscated the cupcakes "and are eating them as well."

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this story