President Obama will propose a budget next week that embraces a risky strategy of courting Republicans for a grand bargain on the debt while angering Democratic allies with cuts to the nation’s entitlement programs.
White House officials said Friday that Obama’s budget would cut Medicare and Social Security and ask for less tax revenue than he has previously sought. The budget, to be released Wednesday, will fully incorporate the offer Obama made to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) during December’s “fiscal cliff” talks — which included $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction through spending cuts and tax increases.
On Friday, liberals expressed outrage that a freshly reelected president would concede so much. Some of Obama’s allies said they were concerned that he was making a strategic mistake. Yet the president’s aides said he was intent on showing that he was not backing away from the compromise he had offered.
“The budget reflects his priorities within a budget world that is not ideal,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “It requires compromise, negotiation and a willingness to accept that you won’t get 100 percent of what you want.”
The budget will break with the president’s tradition of providing a sweeping vision of his ideal spending priorities, untethered from political realities. But the spirit of compromise did not win Obama much immediate support, as Republicans and Democrats questioned whether it would lead to an agreement.
Boehner accused Obama of holding entitlement cuts “hostage” in an effort to win support for more tax increases, despite warnings from congressional Republicans not to do so.
“That’s no way to lead and move the country forward,” Boehner said.
But some of the most heated commentary came from the left, which was furious that the president was enshrining cuts to Social Security as official administration policy. Obama proposed changing the cost-of-living calculation for Social Security in a way that will reduce benefits for most recipients, a key Republican request that he had earlier embraced only as part of a compromise.
“I am terribly disappointed and will do everything in my power to block President Obama’s proposal to cut benefits for Social Security recipients,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats. “I remember when Obama said he was concerned about retirees struggling to get by and was unequivocal in his opposition to cutting cost-of-living adjustments.”
Overall, the budget request reflects Obama’s stark shift in strategy over the past month, as he has adopted a far more congenial posture toward the opposition. He has begun a charm offensive, reaching out to rank-and-file House and Senate Republicans, dining and speaking privately with them. Obama is set to have dinner with a group of Republicans on Wednesday night, just hours after his budget is released.
Obama’s aides have not been overly optimistic about the prospects for a deal. But they now argue that a strategy of private outreach, coupled with public events, offers the best path for progress not only on the deficit but also on other issues, including immigration and gun control. The White House says the concessions in Obama’s budget should not be viewed as a list of options but rather as a cohesive package.
Obama decided to incorporate the approach he had offered Boehner after a debate among his advisers and allies on Capitol Hill, according to people familiar with the discussions. Some worried that the White House was giving away concessions before Republicans agreed to make some of their own.
“I have some tactical concerns about the White House approach and some substantive concerns,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a White House ally in pursuit of a broad budget deal.
“The president has essentially said this is his end point and this is a compromise proposal,” Van Hollen said. “Republicans have rejected this as a compromise. From the Republican perspective, the president’s budget is the starting point for negotiation.”
White House officials say Obama felt that, as president, it was important he stand by his original offer and include it in his budget proposal.
“We want to make clear that it’s something that we’re willing to do. To not put it in [the budget] would be a conversation disconnected with reality,” a senior White House official said. Failing to do so, the official said, would have provoked howls from Republicans that “you moved the goal posts.”
Officials also pointed out that the president’s budget goes beyond the Boehner offer. Obama’s budget would fund several new priorities, including the creation of a program offering preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income backgrounds.