Obama speech calls for 'shared responsibility' alternative to GOP budget plan

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 13 - In a passionate “vision for America” speech Wednesday, President Obama presented his plan to trim U.S. debt by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. But he acknowledged that it will trigger criticism from both left and right.

In fact, even before Obama spoke, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio emerged from a White House meeting with Obama and said “We're willing to resolve our differences and do something meaningful but raising taxes will not be part of it.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who also attended the meeting, said “We don't believe a lack of revenue is part of the problem, so we will not be discussing raising taxes.”

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On his proposal to tax “millionaires and billionaires” more, Obama said “I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me” and appealed to “our sense of responsibility to each other and to our country.” On his proposal to cut spending even for government programs he supports, he said “To those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have an obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments.

“If we believe that the government can make a difference in people's lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works, by making government smarter, and leaner and more effective.”

In the category of “Other mandatory spending” targeted for $360 billion in cuts, Obama's plan states that “Outside of health care, comprehensive deficit reduction must include savings in other mandatory programs, including agricultural subsidies” - even though agricultural program spending represents less than one percent of the the federal budget.

Obama centered the criticisms in his speech on the Republican budget proposal which the House is debating today and tomorrow. He said the plan presented by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., “aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.” While he called that goal and Ryan's goal of dealing with Medicare and Medicaid “worthy goals for us to achieve,” Obama said the Ryan approach “would lead to a fundamentally different America . . . fundamentally different from what we've known throughout our history.” He said the Ryan plan would impose huge cuts in healthcare, clean energy, education, research and transportation, saying “these aren't the kind of cuts you make when you're trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget.”

Calling the Ryan approach “deeply pessimistic,” Obama said it “ends Medicare as we know it. It's a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit.”

The heart of Obama's plan is to “put everything on the table” rather than focus cuts on the 12% of the federal budget composed of non-security domestic discretionary spending. He calls for including cuts in Defense Department spending - and for increasing federal revenues through reforming the tax code. He said he hopes that the White House will be able to work with congressional leaders to develop a comprehensive deficit reduction plan by June this year.

As a fall-back in case new deficit reduction goals aren't met by 2014, and to increase pressure on Congress to act quickly, Obama said his plan would mandate additional spending cuts and increased taxes.

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