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Obama Talks Debt, Taxes and Drug Decriminalization at UMd.

President Obama took on a wide-range of topics at Ritchie Coliseum's town hall on Friday.

President Barack Obama in College Park.

The event, which began around 11 a.m. at the Ritchie Coliseum on University of Maryland’s campus, allowed audience members to ask the president questions about his time in office and the debates in Washington.

Before taking questions, however, Obama spoke to the audience about the issues with the deficit and the debt ceiling.

“Obviously, it’s dominating the news,” he said, “even though it’s taking place in Washington, this is actually a debate about you and everybody else in America and the choices that we face.”

Obama said he wouldn’t be satisfied until every American who wants employment finds it and workers are being paid enough so they can make ends meet. 

He acknowledged the difficulties of the last two and a half years and the terrible state of the economy, but said that he’s willing to make changes necessary to get America out of debt.

“I’ve been urging Congress to pass some proposals that would give the economy an immediate boost,” he said, such as extending tax relief for middle-class families, finding ways to get construction workers business with federal projects, and cutting red tape preventing entrepreneurs and investors from opening new businesses.

“For a decade we’ve been spending more money than we are taking in,” he said, noting that the last time the budget was balanced was under former President Bill Clinton. “…regardless of your views on these various actions that were taken, the fact is they all cost money. And the result is that there’s simply too much debt on America’s credit card. Neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this problem, but both parties have a responsibility to solve it.”

He said also he wants to cut a historic amount of government spending, but legislators must simultaneously create tax reform to raise more money.

Amanda Knief, Government Relations Manager for the Secular Coalition for America, was the first to ask a question.

Knief said as an atheist, others have been discriminated against when it comes to working for religious groups with federal funding, because of their lack of religion. Although Obama discussed the intricacies of the issue, Knief was not pleased with the response, according to a press release from the SCA.  Another man asked about how the president will make sure the country doesn’t default.

A UMd. doctoral student in political rhetoric asked the president about his stance on decriminalizing drug use, to which Obama said a firm no on pursing that strategy.

A woman also asked Obama about his regrets. He said he wished he could be more aggressive about convincing the Senate about his economic policy and also taking the time to really explain his policies to the American people.

Two educators, Mary Wagner of Blake High School in Montgomery County and Darla Bunting, a third grade literacy teacher in Southeast D.C. asked questions about government compromise and gentrification.

Aaron Kaufman, a University of Maryland senior with cerebral palsy, asked Obama to fight for funding for the disabled, speaking to his personal experience with his father-in-law, who suffered from muscular dystrophy.

After the town hall, Mildred Douglas, and her husband, Mark, of Charles County, said they felt Obama was being genuine and really wants to fix the economic issues of the nation.

“He was very sincere about making things work for the American people,” Douglas said.

Adelphi resident Mariellen Clarke, however, was disappointed with Obama’s stance on decriminalization.

Sisters Crystal Max, 33, and Sheri, 30, of College Park, waited for tickets at 3 a.m. Thursday. They said the wait was worth it and generally liked what they heard from the president.

Max said she never lost hope in Obama.

“For me, he’s been able to withstand the critics,” she said.

A small group of demonstrators held signs supporting the Dream Act outside the gymnasium on Route 1.

To see a full transcript of the town hall, got to WBAL, who has a copy on its website.

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