Obama Urges Cuts and Taxes on the Rich
WASHINGTON — President Obama called for cutting the nation’s combined budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years on Wednesday, countering Republican budget plans with what he said was a more balanced approach that relies in part on tax increases for the wealthy as well as on spending cuts.
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
"Obama forgot one of the rules of community organizing. You must get your message out there before your opposition has an opportunity. I just hope it's not too late. "
Still, as he laid out the administration’s opening bid in negotiations over the nation’s fiscal future, Mr. Obama conceded a need to cut spending, rein in the growth of entitlement programs and close tax loopholes. At the same time, he insisted that the government must maintain what he called investment in programs that are necessary to compete globally. And he made clear that, despite his compromise with Congressional leaders in December, he would fight Republicans to end lowered tax rates for wealthy Americans that have been in place since President George W. Bush championed them in the last decade.
“There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” Mr. Obama said of budget proposals put forward by Republicans in the House. “There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know.”
In his remarks, delivered at George Washington University, Mr. Obama offered an impassioned defense of the popular Medicare and Medicaid programs against Republican proposals for sweeping changes in them. “We are a better country because of these commitments,” he said. “I’ll go further — we would not be a great country without those commitments.”
To the likely disappointment of some of his most liberal supporters, though, Mr. Obama signaled that he agreed with Republicans about the need to cut spending.
He acknowledged that some people would oppose cutting spending now, “mostly folks in my party,” the president said. “I’m sympathetic to this view, which is one of the reasons I supported the payroll tax cuts we passed in December. It’s also why we have to use a scalpel and not a machete to reduce the deficit.”
“But doing nothing on the deficit is just not an option,” he said.
Among his proposals is a “debt fail-safe” mechanism that would force lawmakers into much more severe action if the deficit has not contracted significantly by 2014.
The provision would impose across-the-board cuts on most government programs, officials said, adding that it was intended to provide an incentive to motivate potentially reluctant lawmakers to take difficult but necessary steps.
Aides to Mr. Obama said that there would be $3 in spending cuts and interest savings in the president’s proposals for every $1 that comes from increased tax revenue.
House Republicans have already signaled they are prepared for a fight over the competing visions of spending, taxes and debt. Representative John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, said on Tuesday, “We don’t have deficits because Americans are taxed too little — we have deficits because Washington spends too much.”
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said in a speech on the floor Tuesday that “too often, it seems, Democrats in Washington claim to be interested in helping those in need, when what they really seek is to protect big government.”
Mr. Obama spent much of his speech decrying the proposals from House Republicans, which he called a vision that would change the “basic social compact” promised to Americans for decades.
The president described the Republican plan for reducing the nation’s debt as one that would let roads crumble, accept mediocrity in education, stop caring for senior citizens and lead to as many as 50 million fewer people being covered by health insurance. He derided the Republican approach as one that would not invest in “education or clean energy” while giving away tax breaks to wealthy people.
“To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms,” Mr. Obama said. “We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m president, we won’t.”