Obama defends budget's deficit-cutting measures
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 4:15 PM
President Obama strongly defended his $3.7 billion blueprint for federal spending in a news conference on Tuesday, rejecting criticism that he should have proposed a more specific plan to reduce the long-term budget deficit.
Obama's plan would trim or kill more than 200 federal programs and raise taxes on the wealthy and businesses to free up funds for education, transportation and research. Republicans, who are demanding deeper spending cuts, say the plan doesn't go far enough to tackle the nation's record deficit.
Speaking after his budget director and treasury secretary faced sharp questioning by Republicans on Capitol Hill, Obama denied that his budget does little to address the big entitlement programs - Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- that together account for more than 40 percent of federal spending.
"I'm confident we can get Social Security done in the same way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were able to get it done: by parties coming together, making some modest adjustments," Obama said. "I think we can avoid slashing benefits, and I think we can make it stable and stronger for not only this generation, but for the next generation."
He did not offer details on how he would reform entitlement programs and would not endorse specific proposals from the fiscal commission that he created last year, which released a bipartisan report on deficit reduction in December.
Obama hinted he has already started talking to GOP leaders about entitlement reform, although neither side has discussed details of such talks.
"I was glad to see yesterday Republican leaders say: How come he didn't talk about entitlements?" Obama said. "I think that's progress, because what we had been hearing made it sound as if we - if we just slashed deeper on education or, you know, other provisions in the -- in domestic spending, that somehow that alone was going to solve the problem. So I welcome -- I think it was significant progress that there is an interest on all sides on those issues."
On Tuesday afternoon, House Republican leaders announced that their federal budget for the 2012 fiscal year will include reform proposals for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Obama's budget "punts on entitlement reform and actually makes matters worse by spending too much, taxing too much, and borrowing too much -- stifling job growth today and threatening our economic future," said a statement from House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) .
White House budget director Jacob Lew and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner faced heat from Republicans over the budget plan during House committee hearings on Tuesday.
At a hearing before the House Budget Committee, Ryan demanded that Lew explain why Obama failed to take the advice of his own deficit commission to offer a comprehensive strategy for paying down the soaring national debt.
"Why did you duck?" Ryan asked. "If George Bush brought this budget to the House, I would say the exact same thing. . . . We agree on the size and the scope and the nature of the problem. So, why did you duck? Why are you not taking this opportunity to lead?"
Lew responded in measured tones, saying that the president had achieved the goal he had set for the commission to reduce deficits to 3 percent of the economy by the middle of the decade. Deficits of that size would stabilize borrowing as a percentage of the economy, causing the national debt - which has doubled over the past three years - to stabilize at 76 percent of gross domestic product.