President Obama today outlined his own proposal for reducing the nation's deficit by $4 trillion in the next 12 years, calling it a "more balanced approach" than the one championed by congressional Republicans, and emphasized that everything in the budget must be up for discussion.
"Any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget," the president said in remarks a few blocks away from the White House at George Washington University. "It's an approach that puts every kind of spending on the table, but one that protects the middle-class, our promise to seniors, and our investments in the future."
In a 44-minute speech that included few specific targeted cuts but many broad objectives, Obama said that in order to reach his deficit reduction goals, he would focus on four key areas: keeping domestic spending low; cuts to the Pentagon budget; health care savings in Medicare and Medicaid; and taxes.
Obama Cites Bipartisan Fiscal Commission
The president said these ideas come from the recommendations of the bipartisan fiscal commission and builds on the roughly $1 trillion in deficit reduction that he already proposed in his 2012 budget.
"We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt," he said. "And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and win the future."
With the 2012 presidential campaign looming, Obama today tried to draw a clear contrast between his plan and that which congressional Republicans have put forward, which has drawn support from several Republican presidential contenders.
The president said that while both sides want to make dramatic spending cuts, their approach goes after the wrong targets and is less about deficit reduction than it is about "changing the basic social compact in America."
"These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can't afford the America we believe in; and they paint a vision of our future that's deeply pessimistic," Obama said of the plan put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There's nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know."
Obama: No More Tax Cuts for the Wealthy
Specifically, Obama said that the changes he has proposed for Medicare and Medicaid will keep the commitments to the nation's seniors while still saving $500 billion during the next 12 years and an additional $1 trillion by 2033.
The president also pledged to increase the tax rates on upper income Americans -- individuals who make more than $200,000 a year or families that make more than $250,000 -– because they can afford to pay a little more.
In December, the president agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, in order to keep his campaign pledge to prevent a tax increase for the middle class. That won't happen again, he said today.
"We cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again," he said. "I don't need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn't need another tax cut."
GOP Wasted No Time Rejecting Obama Plan
Yet even before Obama delivered his remarks, Republicans were already lining up to reject his proposals.
Back from a meeting at the White House earlier today, Republican leaders in Congress warned Obama that they will not agree to raise taxes in an effort to rein in the country's rising deficits, calling them a "non-starter."
"I think the president heard us loud and clear. If we're going to resolve our differences and do something meaningful, raising taxes will not be part of it," House Speaker John Boehner said at a brief news conference on Capitol Hill after the meeting.
Boehner described the White House meeting as "a very frank and serious discussion" about the debt crisis, but suggested he has tough standards for the administration to meet in order to sway his support from chairman Ryan's budget plan to address the deficit.
"All of us understand that this debt that hangs over our head hurts our economy and hurts our ability to create jobs in America," Boehner of Ohio said. "In order to move forward, I think Paul Ryan has set the bar in terms of the kind of targets that we need to meet and the kind of serious effort that is required given the debts that we have."
GOP United Against Tax Increases
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia echoed Boehner and said that raising taxes is not the answer.
"We've put on the table our plan, our vision. We're going to be voting on the floor this week on the Ryan budget plan, and it lays out how we expect to frankly save the safety net for those who need it in this country, not for those who don't," Cantor said. "The president has not come forward with any specifics as far as how we're going to deal with our debt obligation. I'm looking forward to seeing specifics and to getting serious so we can respond to this debt crisis that we're facing."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned that the upper chamber of Congress will not agree to the administration's request to raise the country's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling unless "significant" action is taken to reduce the red ink.
"The meeting was constructive in the sense that I think everyone at the White House meeting agreed that we need to kind of put the talking points aside and deal with what's doable as we approach this debt-ceiling vote," McConnell said. "There is bipartisan opposition in the Senate to raising the debt ceiling unless we do something significant about the debt."
McConnell declined to provide specifics about what "significant" action entails, but said "the definition is what we do is viewed as credible by the markets, by the American people and by foreign countries."
In his remarks, the president outlined a detailed timeline on how the nation's deficits grew and noted that while Americans from both parties tend to dislike government spending as an abstract concept, they support what that spending buys.
"[Americans] believe that we should have a strong military and a strong defense," Obama said. "Most Americans believe we should invest in education and medical research. Most Americans think we should protect commitments like Social Security and Medicare.
"And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political skills tell me that almost no one believes they should be paying higher taxes," he said to polite laughter.
Obama said that the continuing budget and spending debate in Washington is more than just "numbers on a page, more than just cutting and spending," perhaps giving a preview of his 2012 reelection theme.
"It's about the kind of future we want," he said. "It's about the kind of country we believe in."