Susan Walsh, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Confronting bipartisan criticism, President Barack Obama conceded Saturday his proposed budget is not his "ideal plan" but said it offers "tough reforms" to the nation's benefit programs while closing loopholes for the wealthy, a mix that he argued will provide long-term deficit reduction without harming the economy.
In his first comments about a budget he is to release Wednesday, Obama said he intends to reduce deficits while at the same time providing new spending for public works projects, early education and job training.
"We don't have to choose between these goals — we can do both," Obama said in his weekly radio and internet address.
Obama's budget calls for slower growth in government benefits programs for the poor, veterans and the elderly, as well as higher taxes, primarily from the wealthy. Some of its details, made public Friday, drew a fierce response from liberals, labor unions and advocates for older Americans and prompted an unimpressed reaction from Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
"It's a compromise I'm willing to accept in order to move beyond a cycle of short-term, crisis-driven decision-making, and focus on growing our economy and our middle class for the long run," Obama said.
Obama proposes spending cuts and revenue increases that would result in $1.8 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years, replacing $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that are otherwise poised to take effect over the next 10 years.
Counting reductions and higher taxes that Congress and Obama have approved since 2011, the 2014 budget would contribute to a total $4.3 trillion in total deficit reduction by 2023.
The key deficit reduction elements of the plan incorporate an offer Obama made to Boehner in December as both men sought to avert an impending "fiscal cliff" of automatic, across the board spending cut and broad tax increases
Obama's plan has two central features — $580 billion in new taxes that Republicans oppose and a new inflation formula, rejected by many liberals, that would reduce the annual cost of living adjustments for a broad swath of government programs, including Social Security and benefits for veterans.
In his address, Obama said he would achieve deficit reduction by making "tough reforms" to Medicare and by enacting "commonsense tax reform that includes closing wasteful tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected."
Obama made no mention of the effect his budget would have on Social Security and other social safety net programs. That idea drew a hostile reaction from some of his most ardent political backers.
An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted late last year found that 49 percent of those asked were opposed to changing the way Social Security benefits are calculated to produce smaller annual increases and reduce the federal budget deficit.
The poll found 30 percent supported the idea and 15 percent were neutral. Of those opposed to a recalculation, 32 percent said they "strongly opposed" the change, compared with just 11 percent who strongly support it.
Obama rejected a House Republican plan that aims to balance the budget in 10 years with steep cuts in domestic spending.
His remarks reflected the White House's argument that Obama's blend of tax increases and spending cuts have widespread public support and will ultimately change the terms of the fiscal debate in Washington.
"My budget will reduce our deficits not with aimless, reckless spending cuts that hurt students and seniors and middle-class families, but through the balanced approach that the American people prefer, and the investments that a growing economy demands," he said.
Still, Obama has been unable to move House Republicans from their opposition to higher taxes, and his proposed reduction in the growth of benefits drew swift objections from allies.
"The president should drop these misguided cuts in benefits and focus instead on building support in Congress for investing in jobs," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement Friday.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivered the Republican radio and Internet address, arguing that "the ideas on how to fix the federal government are now percolating in the states."
"You see, you don't change America by changing Washington — you change America by changing the states," he said. "And that's exactly what Republican governors are doing across the country — taking a different approach to grow their states' economies and fix their governments with ideas that work.
Brownback, a former House member and senator, called for a "taxing structure that encourages growth, an education system that produces measurable results, and a renewed focus on the incredible dignity of each and every person, no matter who they are."
AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report. Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn
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