Obama Releases Deficit Plan

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Before heading to the United Nations meeting Monday afternoon, President Obama released his plan to get control of the federal deficit.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama laid out a new plan today to cut trillions of dollars from the federal budget deficit over the next decade. That's after this summer's tortured effort to find compromise with Republicans on ways to cut the debt. This time around, gone are the hot-button concessions that raised the hackles of many in the president's own party.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, some Democrats welcome Mr. Obama's assertive, new style.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama presented his deficit-cutting plan as a recommendation to Congress' new supercommittee, which is charged with trimming at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit over the next 10 years. Mr. Obama says the committee should aim higher than that if it really wants to get control of the government's red ink. While many Republicans want to use spending cuts alone to reign in the deficit, Mr. Obama is pushing for additional tax revenue as well.

President BARACK OBAMA: We can't just cut our way out of this hole. It's going to take a balanced approach. If we're going to make spending cuts, many of which we wouldn't make if we weren't facing such large budget deficits, then it's only right that we ask everyone to pay their fair share.

HORSLEY: The president's plan calls for an extra $1.5 trillion in tax revenue. Most of that would come from America's wealthiest families.

OBAMA: This is not class warfare. It's math.

HORSLEY: Even before the president spoke this morning in the White House Rose Garden, the top Republicans in Congress had ruled out any tax increase. Senator Mitch McConnell says tax hikes are not a recipe for economic or job growth. And Republican House Speaker John Boehner said the supercommittee should reject tax hikes, even as he called on politicians of all stripes to compromise. Mr. Obama ridiculed Boehner's position today.

OBAMA: So the speaker says we can't have it my way or the highway, and then basically says, my way or the highway. That's not smart.

HORSLEY: Earlier this summer, Mr. Obama tried to negotiate a so-called grand bargain with Boehner, which would have included significant changes to Medicare in exchange for higher taxes. Today's proposal from the president includes fewer concessions to the GOP. White House budget director Jack Lew says that's no accident.

JACK LEW: Obviously, over the summer, we were in a different context. We were in a negotiation where the president made a very, very serious effort to reach agreement on a broad range of issues.

HORSLEY: Once Boehner walked away from those talks, Lew says, the president drafted a plan that reflects his own vision of how to cut the deficit, rather than one designed to garner Republican support. Mr. Obama's proposal no longer includes a higher eligibility age for Medicare, for example, and the president drew his own line in the sand.

OBAMA: I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share.

HORSLEY: Some Democrats have complained in the past that Mr. Obama's bargaining style was too conciliatory. Campaign director Daniel Mintz, of the liberal group MoveOn.org, liked what he heard from the White House today.

DANIEL MINTZ: The Republicans have shown over and over that they are not interested in negotiating in good faith. And so it just makes sense for the president to put out what he thinks is right rather than, you know, a sort of pre-compromised position.

HORSLEY: Given Republican opposition, it's doubtful much of what the president proposed today could pass through Congress, but it could serve as a starting point in deficit-cutting negotiations. Otherwise, if Republicans won't yield on taxes or Democrats won't yield on entitlement programs, the government could be faced with automatic spending cuts that nobody likes, and that don't really solve the deficit problem.

Maya MacGuineas, of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, says that would be the worst outcome.

MAYA MACGUINEAS: The time for digging in is over. We've been doing that for years, and look where it's gotten us. It's gotten us a downgrade, a very insecure economic recovery, and dangerously high levels of debt.

HORSLEY: The supercommittee's recommendation is due just before Thanksgiving. Unless there's some agreement by then, it could be a very testy holiday.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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