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Can you imagine a major company hosting a town hall for a Republican ? -What would be said of him and the party ?

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- In an online town hall meeting at the headquarters of Facebook Inc., President Barack Obama sharpened his attack on Republicans while making an appeal to the tech-savvy generation that helped get him elected.

The president used questions from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook employees and online users of the social network to tout his plans and economic policies—and go on the offensive against congressional Republicans, with whom he's trying to work out a legislative framework for deficit reduction.

"The Republican budget that was put forward I would say is fairly radical. I wouldn't call it particularly courageous," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama offered a dire description of the budget drafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. He said it would reduce taxes for corporations and the wealthy by cutting funds to clean energy programs and transportation.

"I guess you could call that bold. I would call it shortsighted," Mr. Obama said to applause from an audience of mostly young people. "I do think Mr. Ryan is serious," Mr. Obama added. "He's a patriot."

The president cited Mr. Ryan's proposed reforms to Medicare as the "fundamental difference" between Democrats and Republicans who are supposed to reach an agreement by June on a legislative framework for deficit reduction in advance of a vote on raising the country's debt limit. Mr. Obama accused Republicans of not wanting to make the health-care system more efficient and cheaper.

"Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who don't have lobbyists or people who don't have clout," he said.

Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Rep. Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican who is part of the bipartisan group tasked with reaching an agreement on deficit reduction, said Mr. Obama's comments are unhelpful.

"It's hard to take President Obama's latest fiscal commission seriously or as sincere effort to tackle our debt crisis while he's out campaigning and engaging in such pure political theater," Mr. Dayspring said.

Mr. Obama's comments come on the heels of a report Monday from Standard & Poor that for the first time lowered its outlook on U.S. government debt from "stable" to "negative." The firm warned that it could downgrade the debt rating if officials fail to reach a credible plan to rein in the deficit by 2013. The deficit this year is expected to be between $1.5 trillion and $1.65 trillion.

During the forum, which was streamed live over the Internet, Mr. Zuckerberg and audience members asked Mr. Obama about topics that included the economy, jobs, health care and immigration policy—including the idea of allowing skilled foreign workers to have visas to set up businesses in the U.S. He cited the example of Andy Grove, the former chief executive of Intel Corp.

"We want more Andy Groves here in the United States," said the president. "We don't want them starting Intel in China or starting it in France."

He cited the need for America to produce more scientists, vowing to make science seem cool. "I want people to feel the same way about the next big Internet breakthrough ... that they felt about the moon launch," Mr. Obama said.

Some of the president's comments were aimed directly at the Internet-savvy voters who used services such as Facebook to help him get elected in 2008. "I hope that ... you don't get frustrated and cynical about our democracy," he said, noting that he realized many might accuse his administration of not winning legislative battles fast enough.

"If you put the same energy and imagination that you put into Facebook into the political process, I guarantee you there's nothing we can't solve," Mr. Obama said.

While Mr. Obama again turns to Facebook as a campaign tool, the President may also be Mr. Zuckerberg's most important friend in Washington. Facebook finds itself under growing political pressure, on issues ranging from how it might expand into China to how it has pushed the envelope on privacy. Lawmakers recently proposed new legislation that would establish a consumer privacy bill of rights.

The White House rejected the notion that Mr. Obama's Facebook town hall is an effort to promote the company, which is seeking a higher profile in Washington. "This is not about endorsing a specific company; it's about accepting an invitation for a forum to speak to the American people," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Sitting on chairs in front of the audience, the president and the famously informal Mr. Zuckerberg, who is 26, agreed to take off their jackets so they would be more comfortable. "My name is Barack and I'm the guy that got Mark to wear a jacket and tie," Mr. Obama joked.

As the event ended, Mr. Zuckerberg gave the president his famous uniform, a hooded Facebook sweatshirt.
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