The Washington Post

West Wing briefing: 5 questions Obama’s deficit speech should answer

President Obama on Wednesday will give a much-anticipated speech on his plans to reduce the long-term budget deficit. Here are five key questions his speech should answer.

1. Is Obama prepared to be specific or will he stick with giving a more broad outline of how he would reduce the deficit?

House Republicans have laid out a detailed vision to reduce the long-term deficit by privatizing Medicare, turning Medicaid into a program that provides block grants to states and making major cuts to domestic spending

In his budget proposal earlier this year, Obama avoided that kind of detail on changes to key entitlement programs. But that was before the GOP released its ideas last week. Now, Obama is facing some criticism he is not leading on this major issue.

2. Will he touch Social Security?

Obama and his team argue Medicare and Medicaid are driving the growth of the deficit, not Social Security.

But the bipartisan fiscal commission Obama created last year recommended raising the retirement age to 69, an idea popular with deficit hawks in both parties, but strongly opposed by many Democrats.

3. Will he give a timetable to pass entitlement reform?

It’s hard to imagine a major entitlement reform would pass next year, in the midst of a presidential election. But will Obama set some kind of defined timetable to push through legislation, knowing how Congress often delays until the last moment possible finishing anything, as last week’s near government shutdown showed?

Without such a timeline, can the president can assure legislation will actually be passed? If Obama sets a deadline and no deal is done by that date, would it appear as though he failed on his major legislative proposal before his election campaign?

4. What kind of tax increases will he propose?

White House advisers have criticized the House GOP budget proposal for a lack of “balance,” arguing that it calls for cuts, but no tax increases.

Obama has said repeatedly he wants to increases taxes on family income above $250,000 each year, but has not spelled out any other taxes he would like increased or tax breaks he wants to see eliminated.

5. Will Obama embrace any of the Republican ideas for reducing the deficit?

Since the November elections, Obama has tried to find common ground with the GOP, so much so that his own party has occasionally been irritated with the president. Obama is unlikely to back the GOP proposals on Medicare and Medicaid. But are there other ideas he can support, as a way of giving this painful process a bipartisan start?


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