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Obama Takes on Hedge Fund Managers And Tea Partiers in Townhall

Today, President Barack Obama defended his economic policies in a rangy, hour-long, town hall–type interview organized and televised by CNBC.

I’ll post the full video when available — the above is a clip via ThinkProgress — but here’s a rundown of some of the interesting tax, economy and financial topics covered.

Hedge fund managers: not “put upon”

A hedge fund manager, CNBC contributor and former classmate of Obama’s, Anthony Scaramucci, stood up during the town hall and told the president the “Wall Street community” feels like “a piñata.” (Video above.) He asked him how he planned to repair that damage.

Obama answered politely, saying that the ties between Wall Street and Main Street are close. He noted that he wants and America needs a “vibrant and vital” financial sector. But, he said, “I have been amused over the last couple years, this sense of somehow me beating up on Wall Street. I think most folks on Main Street feel like they got beat up on.”

He continued, “There’s a big chunk of the country that thinks that I have been too soft on Wall Street. That’s probably the majority, not the minority.” He cited the billion-dollar payouts to executives in the hedge fund industry, then said, “I think that you shouldn’t be feeling put upon.”

On saving Wall Street

Obama argued that his administration’s efforts to stabilize the financial sector worked, and said he is staunchly pro-business, when queried by a Home Depot executive. “It’s very hard to find evidence of anything we’ve done that’s designed to squash business as opposed to promote business,” he argued. “What I’ve tried to do is just try to be practical.”

He also said: “As a consequence of reckless decisions that had been made, the economy was on the verge of collapse. Those same businesses now are profitable; the financial markets are stabilized. The only thing that we’ve said is that we’ve got to make sure that we’re not doing some of the same things that we were doing in the past that got into this mess in the first place.”

On the jobs hangover

A few callers spoke of their personal plight in the wake of the recession. One law school grad said he cannot pay his loans, let alone get a mortgage or afford a family. He asked “Is the American dream dead?” Another woman described how her family might be reduced to “hot dog[s] and beans,” the sort of belt-tightened times she thought were behind her. She asked, “Is this my new reality?

Obama replied, “Absolutely not.” He said: “We are still the country that billions of people in the world aspire to.” But he called the frustration of average Americans “understandable,” given the state of the economy. “The hole was so deep that a lot of people out there are still hurting, and probably some folks here in the audience are still having a tough time.” He cited victories in aiding the middle class and said it would take time before the economy would recover.

On higher taxes for millionaires

Obama defended his proposal to keep tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, but to allow income taxes to rise for the remaining two percent. “On average, millionaires would get a check of $100,000. And, by the way, I would be helped by this, so I just want to be clear. I’m speaking against my own financial interests. This is an irresponsible thing for us to do. Those folks are the least likely to spend it.”

On Tea Parties

Showing plenty of political aplomb, asked about the Tea Parties, Obama said Americans have a “noble tradition of being helpfully skeptical about government.” But he noted that Tea Partiers who want to slash both taxes and spending should name where they would cut the budget. “I think it’s important for you to say, ‘I’m willing to cut veterans’ benefits’” or Medicare or Social Security, he said.

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