Feb. 15, 2011— -- President Obama today defended his 2012 budget proposal amid criticism from Republicans that it does too little to rein in the burgeoning U.S. deficit and costly entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
"You cut back on what you can afford to focus on what you can't do without. And that's what we've done with this year's budget," the president said in his first news conference of the year.
"What my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts, so that by the middle of this decade, our annual spending will match our annual revenues. We will not be adding more to the national debt," he said when asked about the GOP criticism. "We're not going to be running up the credit card anymore."
Touting his $3.73 trillion budget, Obama urged the kind of bipartisanship that was achieved late last year in extending tax cuts for Americans.
"I recognize that there are going to be plenty of arguments in the months to come, and everybody's going to have to give a little bit," he said in the hour-long news conference. "We've found common ground before."
He admitted that more needs to be done to curb the rapidly rising costs of entitlement programs but also warned that it must be done step by step and by both Democrats and Republicans.
Republicans have specifically objected to plans to end subsidies for oil and gas firms, impose higher taxes on multinational corporations and to reduce tax deductions for higher-income groups. Others say the budget doesn't tackle the issue of the $14 trillion debt.
GOP leaders say it's the president who needs to take the lead role in overhauling entitlement programs.
"With regard to our long-term unfunded liabilities -- the entitlements -- we are waiting for presidential leadership," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "We know and we'll say again that entitlement reform will not be done except on a bipartisan basis with presidential leadership."
While Democrats were less vocal in their objections, many are against the deep cuts the White House is proposing in community grants and the home heating assistance program, both of which help lower-income groups.
Obama's 10-year budget plan would increase the national debt by $7.2 trillion in 10 years; $1.1 trillion less than if it weren't implemented.
Although it cuts several programs for low-income groups that the president said are part of the "tough choices" he has had to make, it isn't nearly as tough as the plan proposed by Obama's bipartisan deficit commission, which called for a sweeping overhaul of Medicare, an increase in the Social Security retirement age, and ending tax deductions for mortgages.
Deriding the media's coverage of the budget, the president disputed the idea that the deficit commission's recommendations had been shelved, saying that "it still provides a framework for conversation."
"You guys are pretty impatient," he told reporters. "If something doesn't happen today, then the assumption is it's not going to happen."
The president also warned lawmakers to be mindful of the budget that would fund the government for the remainder of the year and urged bipartisanship. The House today began debate on a contentious package proposed by Republicans that, they say, will save U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion, compared with the president's fiscal year 2011 request.
Democrats charge that the GOP plan will halt economic recovery and hamper growth. But just hours after his press conference, Obama threatened to veto the bill, saying in a statement that the bill would "undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate the rest of the world," and "sharply undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation."
"The key here is for people to be practical and not score political points," he said during his press conference. "That's true for all of us."
Obama also addressed the uprisings in the Arab world, and specifically assailed the Iranian government's response to the recent protests that have erupted since the uprising in Egypt overthrew its 30-year-long president, Hosni Mubarak. He said it's "ironic" that the Iranian regime has hailed the Egyptian revolt while suppressing its own protests.
"What's been different is the Iranian government's response, which is to shoot people and beat people and arrest people," the president said. "My hope and expectation is that we're going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government, understanding that America cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran any more than it could inside of Egypt."
Focus on Arab Stability
The White House drew some criticism for its measured response in the initial days of the uprising in Egypt, and for not denouncing Mubarak, who refused to step down despite protesters' demands. Mubarak was a longtime ally of the United States who has played a key role in Israel-Palestine negotiations.
The president today defended the U.S. message on Egypt, saying it was consistent.
"We were mindful that it was important for this to remain an Egyptian event, that the United States did not become the issue, but that we sent out a very clear message that we believed in an orderly transition, a meaningful transition, and a transition that needed to happen not later, but sooner. And we were consistent on that message throughout," he said.
While the president hailed the reforms the military is planning to make in Egypt, he expressed concern about stability in the greater Arab world, where the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings have sparked a number of protests, from Jordan to Yemen to Algeria.
"The world is changing," Obama said. "You have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity. ... You've got to get out ahead of change; you can't be behind the curve."
Obama also called on the release of Raymond Davis, a U.S. Embassy staff member who was arrested in Pakistan after he shot and killed two men last month.
Pakistani officials allege Davis is a spy, and their refusal to release him on diplomatic grounds has escalated tensions between the two countries. Davis is a former special forces soldier who was carrying a fully loaded gun, a bullet proof vest, a GPS device, and a camera full of photos of what Lahore police call sensitive areas of the city and the border with India.
The U.S. Embassy says Davis is a "member of the technical and administrative staff."
If "they [diplomats] start being vulnerable to prosecution, that's untenable," Obama said today.
The United States has threatened to yank funding from Pakistan, as the government there faces pressure from the public to prosecute Davis, a former special forces soldier. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is visiting Pakistan today to talk to Pakistani officials and attempt to calm the situation.
The president's most recent media conference was less than two months ago, in late December.
ABC News' Nick Schifrin, Matt Jaffe and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.