ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Jake Tapper report:
In a forty-four minute speech today that was more against the Republican’s deficit proposal than offering detailed specifics of his own, President Obama today laid out his “vision” to get the nation back on a track of fiscal responsibility.
In a speech could be argued was his first campaign speech of 2012 , as the president himself even admitting that his criticism of the Republicans plan was “strong”, the president laid out in clear terms who he considers the victims of the Republican’s budget plan would be, and painted the nation as a “fundamentally different America” if the Republican’s plan would be adopted.
Congressman Paul Ryan in the audience took listened and took notes as President Obama stomped on his budget plan although noting that the goals of deficit reduction and addressing the challenge of Medicare/Medicaid are worthy ones within the Wisconsin Republican’s budget.
“But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we've known, certainly in my lifetime,” Obama said, “I think it would be fundamentally than what we've known throughout our history: a 70 percent cut in clean energy, a 25 percent cut in education, a 30 percent cut in transportation, cuts in college Pell grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year.”
The president said these kinds of cuts tell the nation that “we can't afford the America that I believe in and, I think, you believe in,” adding that he believes “it paints a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic.“
The president said that put simply the Republicans’ plan “ends Medicare as we know it,” and will make 50 million American lose their health insurance.
Going one step further the president identified those people who would have to “fend for themselves” if the Republican plan was adopted.
“Many are somebody's grandparents, maybe one of yours, who wouldn't be able afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down's syndrome. Some of these kids with disabilities are — the disabilities are so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we'd be telling to fend for themselves.”
The president said that the Republican vision is “is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. “
By contrast, the president declared that the America he knows is one where reforms and sacrifice are made, without sacrificing the country that he knows.
“And as long as I'm president, we won't,” he said.
The president today proposed $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years – with the goal of $2 trillion in spending cuts across the budget, lowering interest payments on the debt by $1 trillion, and tax reform to cut about $1 trillion in tax expenditures -spending in the tax code.
The road to get there – as outlined by the president – is to keep annual domestic spending low, finding additional savings in the defense budget, further reduce health care spending in the budget, by not extending the tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest Americans, and reducing spending in the tax code.
The administration’s plan includes a “failsafe” trigger that the president says will hold Washington accountable.
“If by 2014 our debt is not projected to fall as a share of the economy, if we haven't hit our targets, if Congress has failed to act, then my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code.”
The president noted that there will be those who will “vigorously disagree” with his approach from both sides.
For Republicans – who may disagree with raising taxes, even on the wealthiest Americans Obama noted that “it’s just an article of faith to them,” and defended his call to not extend those tax cuts to the nation’s highest earners.
He framed it yet again as a patriotic duty to the nation’s wealthy class.
“They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that's paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That's not right, and it's not going to happen as long as I'm president. Obama said, “ I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to their country, a country that's done so much for them.
It's just Washington hasn't asked them to. “
For Democrats – who may disagree that there shouldn’t be any talk about cutting spending until the economy is fully recovered; the president said he is “sympathetic” to this view, which is why he supported the payroll tax cuts passed in December.
“Doing nothing on the deficit is just not an option. Our debt has grown so large that we could do real damage to the economy if we don't begin a process now to get our fiscal house in order. “
To those calling for no reforms to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security “out of a fear that any talk of change to these programs will immediately usher in the sort of steps that the House Republicans have proposed,” the president said he can understand the fears.
“But I guarantee that if we don't make any changes at all, we won't be able to keep our commitment to a retiring generation that will live longer and will face higher health care costs than those who came before.”
In early May the Vice President will begin regular meetings with leaders in both parties, the president said, with the aim of reaching a final agreement on a plan by the end of June.
“I don't expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today,” he added, “And though I'm sure the criticism of what I've said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all make an effort to bridge our differences, and find common ground. “
The president attempted to put a personal touch to the debate over budgets and deficits, framing it as more than just numbers on a page.
“What we've been debating here in Washington over the last few weeks will affect the lives of the students here and families all across America in potentially profound ways,” he said, “It's about the kind of future that we want. It's about the kind of country that we believe in.”
Again attempting to tug at the heartstrings of patriotic Americans weaved in the rhetoric of his speech, the president said that the sense of responsibility on the nation’s debt and deficit is not just a partisan feeling or Democratic of Republican idea.
-Sunlen Miller and Jake Tapper