Image: Obama town hall
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
President Barack Obama is greeted by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he arrives at a town hall meeting in Los Angeles.
updated 3/19/2009 10:10:24 PM ET 2009-03-20T02:10:24

Buoyed by adoring crowds far from Washington's political wars, President Barack Obama guaranteed Americans on Thursday that the nation's economy will recover, though he asked them for patience.

Obama looked every bit the campaigner as he sometimes mocked his GOP critics, and sometimes asked people to forgive his shortcomings. In general, his demeanor and message were more upbeat than in recent days when public fury over executive bonuses dominated Congress.

"We will come out on the other side stronger and a more prosperous nation," he said, acknowledging the nation's economic crisis. "That I can guarantee you. I can't tell you how long it will take, what obstacles we'll face along the way, but I promise you this: There will be brighter days ahead."

The comments brought another roar of approval from about 1,000 people at a town hall forum in Los Angeles, where questions were more fawning than pressing. "I'm very glad and thankful that you are our president," the first questioner began. The second said, "thank God for you."

In his second California town hall in two days, Obama asked Americans to back his plans to overhaul health care, change energy policies, and spend more on roads, education and many other areas to boost the stalled economy. The resulting large deficits will be temporary and justified, he said.

He told Americans not to expect "something for nothing" from their government. Improvements to the economy and medical care will take time, he said.

Video: Obama answers students' YouTube plea "Nothing is free," the president said. Responding to a woman's complaint about cuts in jobs and salaries for California teachers, Obama urged people not to ask the federal and state governments to cut taxes and improve services at the same time.

"At some point you've got to make some choices," he said.

Announces fresh aid for California
The important questions, he said, are whether things are moving "in the right direction" and whether he is keeping his main campaign promises.

Obama mocked Republican officials who call his plans too costly even though they presided over huge deficits while they controlled Congress and the White House.

"Where have you been?" he said. "What have you been doing?"

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Obama also announced fresh aid to struggling homeowners in California. He said the state would receive $145 million to help communities hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis. He said the money would be used to buy up and rehabilitate vacant homes, and provide loans to poorer and middle-income families to help with home assistance.

He announced a new Web site to help people around the nation: http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/.

'It's great to have him here'
California's GOP governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, gave the president a far warmer greeting than Obama has received from Republicans in Congress. "It's great to have him here," Schwarzenegger said in introducing Obama to the crowd. He thanked Obama for "courageous leadership."

Obama called the governor "one of the great innovators of state government" and "an outstanding partner with our administration."

The president capped his day on comedian Jay Leno's late-night talk show, taping his appearance at NBC's Burbank, Calif., studios a few hours in advance of its airing.

California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring was not amused. While the two "swap jokes," Nehring said in a statement, "hardworking California families continue to struggle to keep their homes and jobs."

Job creation
The president defended his stimulus package earlier in Pomona, Calif., and said his administration's plans to invest heavily in energy research during hard times will create the kinds of jobs and technology the United States needs to survive economically.

"I know it's not easy," Obama told employees at an electric-car plant. "There are days I'm sure when progress seems fleeting and days when it feels like you're making no progress at all. That's how it feels in the White House sometimes, too."

His economic message had the twin aim of touting the stimulus plan and building support for his $3.6 trillion budget. Both put an emphasis on so-called green enterprises, like plug-in electric cars that are designed to be fuel efficient and kinder to the environment.

"Even as our American automakers are undergoing some painful adjustments, they are also retooling and remaking themselves into an industry that can compete and win," Obama said. "And millions of jobs depend on it."

'Reflects the outrage'
Obama later said the vote in the House of Representatives to slap a hefty tax on lavish employee bonuses "rightly reflects the outrage" that so many people feel about insurance giant American Insurance Group Inc.

House lawmakers voted decisively Thursday to impose a 90 percent tax on millions of dollars in employee bonuses paid by AIG and other bailed-out companies.

Noting that the legislation now moves to the Senate, Obama said he looks forward to receiving a final bill. He said he wants to receive legislation that will send a strong signal to business executives "that such compensation will not be tolerated."

Obama said in his statement that excessive bonuses are part of a larger problem of valuing "reckless speculation" over hard work.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: In California, Obama becomes salesman-in-chief

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