President Obama heads to Canada today for three days of meetings with world leaders. At the top of the agenda – securing the global economic recovery.
When the leaders of the world's 20 largest economies met in London last spring, the global economy was teetering on the brink of collapse.
Today the situation is more stable but the solidarity among world leaders has evaporated when it comes to the best way to keep a still fragile economy growing.
Obama is pushing his colleagues to keep up stimulus spending, but Europe's debt crisis has made world leaders hesitant to do that without also addressing skyrocketing deficits.
"We worked exceptionally hard to restore growth; we cannot let it falter or lose strength now," Obama said in a letter to G-20 leaders last Friday. "This means that we should reaffirm our unity of purpose to provide the policy support necessary to keep economic growth strong."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been a leading voice in Europe pushing for deficit reduction as a priority over stimulus spending. "We are going to implement the efforts we have agreed to," Merkel said in a television interview on Thursday, referring to a savings package Germany is set to implement. "I do not think we should relent."
Thursday at the White House Obama said that the United States can no longer serve as "the engine of world economic growth."
"We are obviously still a huge part of the world economy. We are still going to be open. We are still going to be importing as well as exporting," he said at a press conference with Russian President Medvedev. "But the economic realities are such that for us to see sustained global economic growth, all countries are going to have to be moving in some new directions."
Because of that, Obama said, "not every country is going to respond exactly the same way, but all of us are going to have responsibilities to rebalance in ways that allow for long-term, sustained economic growth in which all countries are participating and hopefully the citizens of all these countries are benefiting."
As he heads to Canada to try and convince world leaders that stimulus spending is necessary for continued global economic growth, at home Obama is facing a debt-weary Congress that is reluctant to approve more federal money for cash-strapped states.
The White House says that the president goes to the G20 summit, "in a position of strength, with the U.S. economy now growing at 3 percent when a year ago it was shrinking at 6 percent; with jobs being created here, including in the private sector, when last year at this time the U.S. economy was losing about 700,000 jobs a month; and with financial regulation on the verge of being approved by Congress."
Obama at G8, G20 SummitAlso on the agenda will be the discussion of the implementation of China's exchange rate. On Thursday, Obama was cautiously optimistic about recent moves by the Chinese on its currency, saying China "made progress."
"The initial signs were positive, but it's too early to tell whether the appreciation that will track the market is sufficient to allow for the rebalancing that we think is appropriate," he said. "
On the sidelines of the summits, Obama will sit down for one on one meetings with six world leaders. Five out of the six bilateral meetings are with Asia-Pacific countries, which the administration official touted as "an eloquent demonstration of the importance that the president attaches to Asia."
First on Obama's list is Britain's newly elected Prime Minister David Cameron.
This is the first meeting between the two leaders, which was by design.
"We wanted this to be the first bilateral meeting that the president would hold on this trip to underscore of course the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom," a senior administration official said. The two leaders are expected to discuss the global economy, Afghanistan, Iran, and Obama may get in a little good natured ribbing by bringing up the U.S.-England World Cup match week that ended in a draw.
Obama has cancelled two visits to Indonesia this year – first because of the health care vote in Congress and most recently because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He will try and make amends with a private breakfast with Indonesia's Prime Minister.
"Regrettably [Obama] has both been able to make it to Indonesia yet," an administration official said of the two postponed trips, " but he very much wants to continue the close coordination that we have with Indonesia on a number of issues."
Security will be tight in Toronto this weekend. Protests have already begun and are expected to continue through Sunday.
The global leaders' summit has even upstaged baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays were scheduled to play three home games this weekend but because of security concerns and congestion, Major League Baseball moved the games to Philadelphia.