President Obama plans this week to respond to a Republican blueprint for tackling the soaring national debt by promoting a bipartisan approach pioneered by an independent presidential commission rather than introducing his own detailed plan.
Obama will not blaze a fresh path when he delivers a much-anticipated speech Wednesday afternoon at George Washington University. Instead, he is expected to offer support for the commission’s work and a related effort underway in the Senate to develop a strategy for curbing borrowing. Obama will frame the approach as a responsible alternative to the 2012 plan unveiled last week by House Republicans, according to people briefed by the White House.
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Letting others take the lead on complex problems has become a hallmark of the Obama presidency. On health care, last year’s tax deal and the recent battle over 2011 spending cuts, Obama has repeatedly waited as others set the parameters of the debate, swooping in late to cut a deal. The tactic has produced significant victories but exposed Obama to criticism that he has shown a lack of leadership.
Like the House GOP budget plan, the Senate effort — led by three Democrats and three Republicans known as the Gang of Six — aims to cut about $4 trillion from the debt over the next decade. But the group is looking to reduce spending in all categories, while urging a rewrite of the tax code that would raise revenue. The Republican plan would cut spending on domestic programs while protecting the military and preserving George W. Bush-era tax cuts that disproportionately benefit high earners.
The work of the Gang of Six is modeled on recommendations of the fiscal commission Obama appointed last year. On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the commission had “created a framework that may help us reach a deal and a compromise.”
“The fiscal commission showed that you need to look at entitlements, you need to look at tax expenditures, you need to look at military spending, you need to look at all of these issues,” Carney said. “You can’t — you can’t simply slash entitlements, lower taxes and call that a fair deal.”
“Everyone,” he said, must “share in the burden of bringing our fiscal house into order.”
While lawmakers in both parties say they support the principle of shared sacrifice, its particulars are proving no less thorny than any other deficit reduction strategy. The Gang of Six has been struggling for weeks to reach agreement on a framework for budget changes that would leave policy details to be worked out in legislative committees.
Aides said that the group is very close to an agreement and that administration officials were pressing them to announce a deal this week. But the group and its allies feared an announcement closely followed by Obama’s endorsement would kill any hope of winning additional Republican support. On Monday, two Republican members, Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), said no deal is likely to be announced until after lawmakers return in May from a two-week Easter recess.