In Ambitious Agenda, Obama Convenes Dozens of Leaders to Tackle Deficit

Could 130 people agree on anything in three hours? President Obama hopes so.

Obama invited 130 members of Congress, community leaders and administration officials to the White House Monday to tackle the nation's swelling budget deficit and the uncertain future of entitlement spending. 

When it was over, participants said the meeting yielded promising insights on the nation's budget troubles, and Obama said all the suggestions would be boiled down into a final report within 30 days. 

But the administration allotted three hours for the brainstorming session -- a condensed mega-meeting that left some professional planners questioning what the White House hoped to accomplish. 

"All they can do is state the obvious out of this," said Casey Cote, president of Meeting Consultants, Inc. "Logistically, it's just going to have to be a nightmare." 

The schedule for the Fiscal Responsibility Summit gave one hour for opening remarks and presentations and two hours for breakout sessions. Eleven administration officials, 24 senators, 29 House members and 56 community, union, think tank and lobbying representatives were in attendance.

In the five breakout groups, senior administration officials moderated discussion on Social Security, health care, tax reform, the budget process and procurement. 

Obama afterward stressed the renewed willingness of the group to tackle those tough issues. He said several lawmakers agreed to tackle health care this year which offers "extraordinary promise as well as peril." 

But Cote, whose business specializes in large-scale events like this, said it would normally take a whole day to field ideas from 130 people. And he said breakout groups really shouldn't have more than a dozen people. 

He described the gameplan as "organized chaos," noting that the confusion could have allowed for administration officials to lead the discussion where they wanted it to go. 

Even before the summit began, some of the participants warned against inflated expectations. 

"It can either be a nice press event. Or it can be a substantive event," said Sen. Judd Gregg, Obama's former commerce secretary nominee before the New Hampshire Republican withdrew in protest over their differing philosophies on government. 

"History tells us it will be the first. We've had these meetings before. There's always a lot of people willing to point out the problem," Gregg said. 

Yet, he said, seldom is anyone willing to make the difficult decisions to solve those problems. 

Obama declared at the top of the meeting Monday afternoon that he will cut the country's budget deficit in half by the end of his first term. 

"I want to be very clear. ... We cannot and will not sustain deficits like these without end," the president said. "We cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, to the next administration or the next generation." 

He said the ballooning national debt threatens to send the country into another crisis down the road, with the country paying out more and more in interest. 

When the meeting was over, Obama urged the participants to continue the discussion.

"My sense is that despite partisan differences, despite regional differences and regional priorities, everyone is concerned about the legacy we're leaving for our children," Obama said. 

Obama also took questions and comments from the participants, including his former rival for the presidency -- Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Aside from the logistical concerns of hearing out the thoughts of dozens of high-ranking officials in two hours, analysts continued to cast doubt Monday on his administration's ability to rein in spending after signing the $787 billion stimulus plan. 

"This spending isn't a two-year commitment," said Peter Morici, a University of Maryland business professor. "A lot of it's very long-term and it's going to be very difficult to harness the appetite that government has for revenue in light of what the president has just pushed through Congress." 

"It doesn't add up to me," Democratic strategist Doug Schoen told FOX News. "And I think it's pretty hard to expand spending, cut taxes and then somehow reduce a ballooning deficit." 

Schoen said Obama should keep the goal of stimulating the economy foremost. 

Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, after hearing from Obama at a meeting of the National Governors Association earlier Monday, said the president's on the right track with his economic agenda, though he agreed the deficit must be addressed. 

"I think we need to recognize the unique circumstances we face as a nation," Strickland told FOX News. "I believe we need to be frugal with the tax dollar, but I also believe that because the circumstances that we face now are quite unique ... this calls for extraordinary action." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.