April 13, 2011 FoxNews-Drawing a clear line between his budget priorities and a proposal pitched by Republicans, President Obama outlined a new spending plan Wednesday which he claimed would cut the deficit by $4 trillion within 12 years with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy.
Obama, in a speech at George Washington University which amounted to an opening argument in the emerging 2012 presidential campaign, positioned his latest spending plan as a more "compassionate" alternative to one introduced last week by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan. He applauded Republicans for putting a plan on the table to address entitlements, but the praise stopped there.
"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, calling their plan "deeply pessimistic." He suggested Republicans were giving up on basic functions of government.
"It's a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can't afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can't afford to send them," Obama said of the Republican plan. "It's a vision that says America can't afford to keep the promise we've made to care for our seniors."
The president's proposal would deal with entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid, but avoid the major changes being pushed by Ryan. The president opposes turning Medicaid into a block-grant program for states and making Medicare seniors purchase government-subsidized insurance, as Ryan proposed. Rather, he vowed to make other changes he claims will extract more than $300 billion in savings from those Medicare and Medicaid over the next decade. Plus he pushed cuts in discretionary spending, including to defense.
The president drew several lines in the sand, as the latest round of the budget debate gets underway. Accusing Republicans of cutting services to seniors and poor children while cutting taxes for the rich, Obama said: "That's not right, and that's not going to happen as long as I'm president."
The White House, instead, has called for a "balance" between cuts and changes to the tax code. Though the administration refers to this as "tax reform," the plan includes a call for rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy -- meaning a tax hike for households making more than $250,000.
Republicans and Democrats had agreed to extend all the Bush tax cuts for two years, but Obama said Wednesday, "I refuse to renew them again" for the wealthy.
"The most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more. I don't need another tax cut," he said.
Republicans, though, have roundly opposed a tax hike for anyone.
"I hope we don't have a re-do and a do-over of the tax agreement," House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said. "This was an issue that was litigated in the election last fall."
Having met with the president Wednesday morning before the speech, House Speaker John Boehner said that he made clear to the president that if the government is going to do something credible and meaningful, "raising taxes will not be part of that."
"The one area that we know we're not going to get very far on is that we're going to raise taxes on the very people we're counting on to ... create jobs," he said.
Obama's plan also called for a "failsafe" trigger, which would apply across-the-board spending cuts if the national debt, as a percentage of GDP, is not on the decline by 2014.
The speech effectively served as a counterproposal to the 2012 budget plan offered by Ryan. The chairman of the House Budget Committee has proposed a plan he claims will cut deficits by $4.4 trillion over the next decade, in large part by overhauling Medicare and Medicaid. He offsets the savings from some of the proposed spending cuts with tax cuts, leaving critics claiming his plan is out of balance, rewarding the wealthy while cutting programs for the poor.
While a rebuttal to Ryan's plan, Obama's speech is also a follow-up to the 2012 budget plan he put on the table earlier in the year.
Republicans have simultaneously welcomed Obama's entry into the latest debt debate while ridiculing him for waiting so long to do so.
"This is vintage Obama. He's been standing on the sidelines expecting the rest of us to make the tough decisions," Cantor said.
The new clash, just a week after the president announced he would seek re-election, ensures that the nation's fiscal health will be at the center of the 2012 presidential campaign. For the past two months, Obama has been arguing to protect his core spending priorities, including education and innovation. His turn to deficit reduction reflects the pressures he faces in a divided Congress and with a public increasingly anxious about the nation's debt, now exceeding $14 trillion.
The president is wading into a potential political thicket. Liberals fear he will propose cuts in prized Democratic programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the health care programs for older adults, the disabled and the poor, and in Social Security. Moderates worry that his plan could unravel bipartisan deficit-cutting negotiations. And Republicans already are poised to reject any proposal that includes tax increases.
A group of liberal Democrats on Wednesday described their latest budget plan, one they said was not necessarily meant as a substitute for the president's. The plan would make no cuts to entitlement programs, but would call for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rolling back the Bush tax cuts.
For the White House, the speech at George Washington University comes as Obama pushes Congress to raise the limit on the national debt, which will permit the government to borrow more and thus meet its financial obligations. The country will reach its debt limit of $14.3 trillion by May 16. The Treasury Department has warned that failure to raise it by midsummer would drive up the cost of borrowing and destroy the economic recovery.
Obama's speech comes just before Congress votes on a $38 billion package of spending cuts that averted a government shutdown last week. Despite widespread antipathy toward the deal in both parties, House Republicans and the White House predicted the plan, which covers spending for the next six months, would pass.
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