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Deficit Politics Now Moves to Congress

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President Barack Obama spoke at George Washington University on Wednesday about his plan to reduce the deficit.

President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans drew sharp contrasts Wednesday in the latest budget standoff — this time over the debt limit.

In a quickly scheduled speech, Obama waded into the roiling debate over long-term deficit reduction, outlining $4 trillion in cuts over the next 12 years that were intended to provide a sufficient counterpoint to a Republican budget proposal that would cut spending heavily.

But Obama’s proposal merely sets an opening bid for negotiations with the GOP over the next two months.

Obama’s proposal for an extra $1 trillion in tax revenue from reforming the tax code was rejected by GOP leaders even before he spoke. And Obama vowed that budget proposals by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to privatize Medicare and slash Medicaid while cutting taxes for the wealthy aren’t going anywhere.

“They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors to each pay $6,000 more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president,” Obama said.

Obama called for bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden to begin in May and conclude by the end of June. That’s near the drop-dead date for raising the debt ceiling and avoiding a potentially catastrophic debt default.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters after meeting with the president but before his speech that they would work with him to reach a deal to avoid a default on the debt. But they said his call for higher taxes on the wealthy will not fly.

“We will not be discussing raising taxes” as part of a deal on increasing the debt limit, McConnell said after a meeting at the White House.

“I think the president heard us loud and clear,” Boehner said. “Raising taxes will not be part of that.”

The Republican leaders said an agreement to increase the debt ceiling would need to include new controls on spending to pass both chambers.

“There’s bipartisan opposition to raising the debt ceiling unless we do something about the debt,” McConnell said.

After the speech, Republican leaders criticized it as long on politics and class warfare and short on specifics.

Ryan, who attended Obama’s speech, said he was disappointed at what amounted to a “political broadside from our campaigner in chief.”

In particular, Republicans argued that Obama did not advance the debate because he didn’t provide details, instead opting to set up what amounts to a second commission to hash out specifics.

“I’m afraid we’re left with more questions than answers,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former Office of Management and Budget director who welcomed Obama to the debate.

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