WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended his proposed budget as “step number one” of a long deficit-fixing process which he said would require a bipartisan commitment to entitlement reform.
“We’re not going to be running up the credit card anymore,” Obama told reporters at a news conference in Washington, the day after his administration released a proposal to cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion. The proposal “doesn’t solve” America’s fiscal ill-health — “it stabilizes it.”
The budget proposal has been met coolly by the GOP-controlled House, which has focused on the national debt. It has also been under fire on both sides for failing to address government spending on Medicare and Medicaid. When pressed on the issue on Tuesday, he acknowledged that “Medicare and Medicaid are huge problems” and said he’s ready to negotiate reform with Democrats and Republicans in the coming months.
“My goal here is to solve the problem,” he said. “It’s not to get a good headline on the first day.”
He made reference to President Ronald Reagan working out a deal with Democratic House speaker Tip O’Neill on “saving” social security, and noted that he was able to compromise with Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts in December. The current director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob “Jack” Lew, was the principal domestic policy adviser to O’Neill at that time.
“If you look at the history of how these deals get done,” he said, “it’s because Democrats and Republicans are both committed to tackling this issue.”
The president also defended his budget’s differences from the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, saying that it still provides a “framework” for future. “The notion that it’s been shelled I think is incorrect.”
Obama said that the proposal is “a scalpel to the discretionary budget, instead of a machete.” It cuts more government waste — he said that more than 100 unnecessary or failing programs would get the axe — while also cutting programs that he cared about deeply, such as community action in low-income neighborhoods.
He said he’s been in talks with Republicans since before the budget was released, and will continue to be. He even praised Republicans for criticizing his budget’s inattention to entitlement reform. “I think that’s progress,” he said.
He called for a “quiet and toned down conversation” to go with the predicted political posturing over the coming months. “I’m confident that will be the spirit that Congressional leaders take over the coming months.”
Obama administration officials will be defending the president’s plan throughout the day. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Lew will all be on Capitol Hill this afternoon.
Geithner will speak at the House Ways and Means Committee, Lew at the Senate Budget Committee and Sebelius at the Senate Finance Committee today.
— Elisa Santana contributed reporting.