WASHINGTON -- President Obama argued for “manageable” changes to Medicare and other social safety net programs as he released his budget proposal, a plan aimed at staking out the middle ground in the stalled deficit reduction talks.
“If we want to preserve the ironclad guarantee that Medicare represents, then we’re going to have to make some changes. But they don’t have to be drastic ones,” Obama said in remarks in the Rose Garden on Wednesday morning. “And instead of making drastic ones later, what we should be doing is making some manageable ones now.”
Obama’s remarks intended to draw a contrast with House Republicans’ budget proposal, fashioned by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, which would balance the federal budget in 10 years in part by transforming Medicare into a voucher-style system and cutting government spending on Medicaid.
The president’s budget suggests smaller, incremental changes that the White House says would curb the rising costs of healthcare. Obama’s budget also would slow cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients, veterans and others who receive government benefits. Under his spending plan, the government would be running a deficit of $439 billion -- about half the current figure -- 10 years from now.
Neither Obama’s budget nor Ryan’s is likely to become law -- both documents merely represent the parties’ annual statement of spending priorities and goals. But in the ongoing, but stalled, effort to land a deficit reduction deal, Obama’s budget is aimed at enticing Republicans to restart talks. His proposal to curb spending on Social Security has been backed by Republicans in the past, and is reviled by some in his own party.
Ryan, the former Republican vice presidential nominee, said the president should be “commended” for including the lower cost-of-living proposal that is unpopular with Democrats. But he dismissed Obama’s overall deficit reduction aims as “minuscule,” casting doubt on the chances for a grand budget bargain this summer with the White House.
“We had hoped the president would have done something larger than this, bigger than this, for the beginning of his second term,” Ryan said in a briefing hosted by National Review magazine.
As he unveiled the plan Wednesday, Obama said he is ready to do a politically difficult deal in the name of compromise.
“I don’t believe that all these ideas are optimal, but I’m willing to accept them as part of a compromise if and only if they contain protections for the most vulnerable Americans,” he said.
The president will pitch his proposal to a group of Republican senators over dinner at the White House on Wednesday night, as the two parties prepare again for budget talks this summer.
On May 19, Congress will again be faced with the need to raise the U.S. debt limit, and Republicans are meeting now to determine what type of budget cuts they will demand from the White House before giving the president authority to continue borrowing to cover the bills.
“We’re not going to walk away with nothing,” Ryan said.
Obama’s budget details $3.78 trillion in federal spending for fiscal year 2014. The plan would run a $744-billion deficit next year.
It includes new spending on programs the White House has touted as economic stimulus and long-term investment. The plan would spend $75 billion over 10 years on expanding access to public preschool and all-day kindergarten. That money would be raised by increasing taxes on cigarettes. The budget also includes $50 billion on new infrastructure.