WASHINGTON — Defending his new budget as one of "tough choices," President Obama said Tuesday that more difficult decisions about the nation's biggest expenses — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — will have to be tackled by Democrats and Republicans acting together, not by White House dictates.
"This is not a matter of, 'you go first, I go first,' " he said. "It's a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn't tip over."
The president pitched his $3.73 trillion budget as a balance of spending on needed programs and significant reductions that would cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years. The budget includes a mix of spending freezes on domestic programs, pay hike suspensions for federal civilian workers and new revenue from increased taxes on the wealthy and on oil and gas producers.
But Obama's deficit relief is far more modest than that detailed by his fiscal commission, which in December proposed measures that would mop up four times as much red ink. Unlike his blue-ribbon group, the administration's budget does not address structural changes in Social Security or Medicare, the two largest items in the federal budget.
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"Look at the history of how these deals get done," Obama said Tuesday. "Typically it's not because there's an Obama plan out there. It's because Democrats and Republicans are committed to tackling this in a serious way."
The commission's bipartisan report included politically difficult recommendation such as increasing the Social Security retirement age and reducing future increases in benefits. And while Obama has promised to overhaul the corporate tax system, he stops short of commission recommendations that would lower rates but generate additional revenue at the same time. Obama has called for "revenue neutral" fixes to corporate taxes, meaning they would neither cost more money nor add money to the treasury.
"I'm not suggesting we don't have to do more," the president said.
Obama said he also wants to work with Republicans to find common ground on government spending for the remainder of this fiscal year and to avoid a government shutdown. Stopping the basic functions of government could damage the economic recovery, he said.