WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Saturday that trimming budget deficits is as important as creating jobs, his top domestic priority this year, to continue the economic recovery that appears under way.
The government reported Friday the economy grew at an annual rate of 5.7 percent in the final three months of 2009. It was the second consecutive quarter of growth and the fastest rate in more than six years.
"A sign of progress," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "But as we work to create jobs, it is critical that we rein in the budget deficits we've been accumulating for far too long."
Hammered by Republicans for billions of dollars in spending that added to the deficit, Obama outlined steps he said would rein in spending. They include rules requiring that spending or tax cuts be offset by cuts to other programs or tax increases, a freeze on most discretionary spending and a presidentially appointed commission to recommend ways to reduce the deficit.
Obama said "pay-as-you-go" rules that were in place in the 1990s led to surpluses at the end of the decade. But after Congress eliminated the rules, Obama said the result was the $1.3 trillion deficit he faced upon taking office in January 2009.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has predicted a deficit of about the same size for the 2010 budget year.
"Reinstating this law will help get us back on track, ensuring that every time we spend, we find somewhere else to cut," Obama said.
The Senate voted Thursday to reinstate the rules. The House must still act on the measure.
Obama also has proposed a three-year freeze on most domestic spending, beginning in the budget year that starts Oct. 1. Spending related to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and national security would be exempt.
The president also promised to create a "fiscal commission" to develop ideas for reducing the deficit.
But his plan would be weaker than a now-defeated Senate proposal that would have created such a commission and required Congress to vote on its recommendations. There is no way to force Congress to vote on recommendations from a presidential panel.
The Senate defeated the measure when anti-tax Republicans and Democrats leery of being railroaded into cutting Social Security and Medicare voted against it.