House GOP Gives Budget Director Lew A Tough Time

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Republicans on Capitol Hill are not impressed with President Obama's deficit-trimming. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the president had punted instead of getting the nation's fiscal house in order. Democrats on the panel defended the budget — one called its social spending cuts "tough love."


So the president's budget is out there and the president's budget director, Jack Lew, has the difficult job of selling that proposal on Capitol Hill to skeptical Republicans.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: When White House Budget Director Jack Lew went before the House Budget Committee yesterday, he steadily made the case for next year's proposed spending blueprint.

Mr. JACK LEW (White House Budget Director): It's a comprehensive, responsible budget. The president doesn't get the final word, he gets the first word. He's put his plan forward.

WELNA: But Paul Ryan, the budget panel's Republican chairman, wasn't buying it. He said President Obama had punted instead of getting the nation's fiscal house in order. Ryan pushed Lew to explain why.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): Why did you duck? Why are you not taking this opportunity to lead?

Mr. LEW: Mr. Chairman, I think the president's budget, if you look at the bottom line, addresses the fiscal challenges that we face in the short and the medium term.

WELNA: Democrats on the panel defended the budget. One called its social spending cuts tough love. That amused Idaho Republican Mike Simpson.

Representative MIKE SIMPSON (Republican, Idaho): If this was the tough love that my father had showed me when I was young, I'd still be a juvenile delinquent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WELNA: Simpson told Lew he was listening to what the American people had to say about a $14 trillion national debt.

Rep. SIMPSON: And what the American people are saying is get your fiscal house in order. I don't see this getting our fiscal house in order. I've noticed that everybody says, well, this - we're going to have $400 billion in cuts in savings in this budget, like that's some big deal - $400 billion. Yeah, it's a lot of money. That's over 10 years, right?

Mr. LEW: Yes.

Rep. SIMPSON: That's like $40 billion a year. The budget, this year's proposal is $3.73 trillion?

Mr. LEW: Yes.

Rep. SIMPSON: Forty billion in savings? That's less than one percent or around one percent in savings? This is not tough love.

WELNA: That budget proved an even tougher sell when Lew moved on to the Senate budget committee. Its Democratic chairman, Kent Conrad, said the document fell short when it came to reigning in deficits over the next 10 years.

Senator KENT CONRAD (Democrat, North Dakota): I believe history will condemn us all if we don't do substantially more for the decade than is in this budget. I believe it fundamentally puts at risk the economic security of the country.

WELNA: Conrad said the only real way to tackle gigantic deficits is to take on defense spending and entitlements, such as Social Security and Medicare, which absorb most of the budget. Republicans agree, but they want President Obama to lead such a politically risky effort. Here's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): There will be no entitlement reform without presidential leadership.

WELNA: Meanwhile, to honor a campaign pledge to slash spending, Republicans brought up a measure in the House yesterday that withholds about $60 billion over the next seven months from federal programs that are not defense-related. Washington State Democrat Norm Dicks warned that a lot of people's jobs are on the line.

Representative NORM DICKS (Democrat, Washington): With this approach, we are going to hurt the economy. We are going to drive unemployment up. We are going to drive the deficit up.

WELNA: Here's what House Speaker John Boehner had to say about the thousands of federal jobs he said have been added since President Obama took office.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): If some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it - we're broke. It's time for us to get serious about how we're spending the nation's money.

WELNA: The GOP's spending cuts for the rest of this fiscal year will likely be approved by the House. But Senate Democrats say those cuts go too far, and Majority Leader Harry Reid warned yesterday that a standoff over that funding could lead to a government shutdown.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): Which shouldn't be a possibility but with the Republicans heading in the direction they are, of course it's a possibility, and that's too bad.

WELNA: The White House yesterday said President Obama would veto the kind of spending cuts House Republicans plan to pass this week.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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