Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama appealed to Democrats and Republicans to "make some political sacrifices" and take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity to tackle the government's budget crisis.
Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday that it will take a "balanced approach" that mixes limits on domestic programs and the Pentagon, curbs to Medicare and elimination of some tax breaks for the wealthy.
Obama spoke a day before hosting top lawmakers in both parties for a negotiating session at the White House
Even as the negotiators seek a grand deal to bring the deficit under control, Obama's Democratic allies and GOP rivals seem to find their options limited by months of angry rhetoric and political posturing.
Sharp divisions persist over increasing taxes and cutting public benefit programs. As a result, hopes have diminished for a deal on an ambitious plan to cut spiraling deficits by $4 trillion or more over the coming decade. Officials now say a smaller, $2 trillion agreement, appeared more doable.
"The good news is, we agree on some of the big things," Obama said. "We agree that after a decade of racking up deficits and debt, we finally need to get our fiscal house in order. We agree that to do that, both sides are going to have to step outside their comfort zones and make some political sacrifices."
The president was spending part of the weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. He left on Marine One on Saturday morning, accompanied by senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and family friend Eric Whitaker.
Obama was scheduled to return Sunday afternoon, several hours before his early evening meeting with congressional leaders.
On Friday, Obama's most important negotiating partner, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that the two sides were far apart.
"It's not like there's some imminent deal about to happen," said Boehner. "There are serious disagreements about how to deal with this very serious problem."
Obama cited a bleak jobs report Friday in hopes of prodding Congress toward a swift agreement. But the higher unemployment numbers hardened the views of partisan lawmakers who think a weak economy can't tolerate added taxes or cuts in spending, essential parts for the broad deal that Obama seeks.
White House and congressional negotiators and their aides continued to work on deficit-cutting ideas to add to a set of proposals tentatively agreed to in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden in May and June. The earlier proposals would shave $2 trillion or so off the deficit. Obama has asked the top eight leaders of Congress to come to the White House on Sunday to assess progress in the talks.
A budget agreement is central to increasing the nation's borrowing limit, currently capped at $14.3 trillion, by Aug. 2.
If that deadline isn't met, there could be a potentially catastrophic government default on obligations to bondholders, government contractors and people relying on Social Security and other government programs. That deadline and a new unemployment rate of 9.2 percent heightened the pressure for a deal, uniting the two most high-profile challenges facing Obama's presidency.
Obama urged Congress to move quickly to raise the debt ceiling, saying the uncertainty over a potential default has hindered hiring in the private sector.
He later made his case privately to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California during a half-hour meeting at the White House.
Both parties and private economists agree that if Washington does not raise the debt ceiling by early August, the economy could slip back into recession.
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