By Erik Wasson - 04/11/13 12:21 AM EDT
President Obama delivered a $1.058 trillion budget request to Congress on Wednesday that was immediately dismissed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who said it showed the White House was not serious about reducing the deficit.
Obama’s 2014 plan, sent two months late, would include a $744 billion budget deficit, $3.77 trillion in total spending, including entitlements, and would add $8.2 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years.
“My budget does also contain the compromise I offered Speaker [John] Boehner at the end of last year, including reforms championed by Republican leaders in Congress,” Obama said in remarks from the Rose Garden. “And I don’t believe that all these ideas are optimal, but I’m willing to accept them as part of a compromise.”
But Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the president’s request shattered hopes for a grand bargain. “I think we should rationalize our expectations to getting a down payment on that problem.”
Ryan said, “Fixing the [deficit] problem requires fundamental entitlement reform, and the president and Senate Democrats have shown absolutely no indication of being willing to do so.”
The Wisconsin Republican added the House and Senate should set up a conference committee from the budget panels, which would seek deficit cuts by reconciling the radically different budgets approved by the two chambers last month.
The gulf between the budget blueprints would make this a huge task, but it would give Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate last year, a pivotal role. He would be excluded from deficit talks between GOP senators and Obama.
The president has held meetings and phoned Republicans over the last month, pushing for a deficit-reduction deal containing tax hikes and entitlement cuts. The effort is designed to get around GOP leaders.
Obama had dinner at the White House on Wednesday night with a dozen Senate Republicans.
Some centrist GOP senators say Obama’s offer on entitlement reform makes them optimistic about getting a deficit-cutting deal.
GOP leaders have been more dismissive, though Boehner and Ryan on Wednesday said Obama deserved credit for offering benefit cuts.
“While the president has backtracked on some of his entitlement reforms that were in conversations that we had a year and a half ago, he does deserve some credit for some incremental entitlement reforms that he has outlined in his budget,” Boehner said Wednesday. “But I would hope that he would not hold hostage these reforms for his demand for bigger tax hikes. Listen, why don’t we do we can agree to? Why don’t we find the common ground that we do have, and move on that?”
Ryan called Obama’s offer of the “chained CPI” formula, which would change the way benefits are adjusted for inflation, a “symbolic step.”
“I don’t see it so much as fundamental entitlement reform as clarification of a statistic,” he said.
The House and Senate approved their budgets in March but have taken no steps toward forming a conference committee.
Ryan said he is waiting for the Senate to take procedural steps to appoint conferees.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is conferring with her leadership about appointing conferees, an aide said.
Ryan and Murray met Wednesday and released a joint statement that said they were committed to finding common ground.
“We look forward to continuing the conversation as we move toward a conference committee,” they said.
There are some overlaps on entitlement savings between the House GOP budget and Obama’s budget that Ryan expressed optimism about.
He said the most solid overlap between the budgets are proposals for greater means testing on Medicare, something Obama has included in previous budgets.
Under the 2014 budget, Medicare would further increase the amount wealthy beneficiaries pay for their hospital and drug premiums under Medicare Parts B and D, capping the highest contribution at 90 percent. The proposal would save approximately $50 billion over 10 years, according to the White House, or $22 billion more than last year’s budget.
The 2014 Ryan plan, which passed the House last month, has $4.6 trillion in new spending cuts and partially privatizes Medicare in order to balance the budget by 2023.