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“We’re beyond the easy, low-hanging fruit. ... We’re reducing programs that are very important programs,” he said.
Lew declined to comment on the House Republicans’ fiscal 2011 spending bill. “We all agree we need to reduce spending, and we have to do it in a way that’s consistent with our values and invest in the future,” he said.
Boehner sent Obama a letter Sunday signed by 150 economists arguing that spending cuts now will create a better environment for job creation, the Speaker said. “This is a critically important step if we’re going to end the uncertainty and start to give investors and small-business people the confidence to invest in our economy,” he added.
When pressed on whether Social Security would face significant cuts in fiscal 2012, Lew said the entitlement program is not contributing to short-term debt.
“Social Security is a separate issue,” he said. “We have an obligation to the American people that Social Security is sound for this generation and the next generation. And the president said he wants to work on a bipartisan basis to deal with Social Security.”
Because the House Republicans’ fiscal 2011 plan targets discretionary spending, it does not address Social Security, Ryan said, but entitlements will be considered for fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1.
“We do hope and plan on dealing with these issues, but I cannot tell you exactly what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it,” he said.
The time is not right to begin talking about specific cuts for entitlement programs, Boehner said.
“Most Americans have not been presented with just how big the problem is. And that’s Social Security, it’s Medicare, it’s Medicaid, and I think it’s incumbent on those leaders here in Washington, those of us to go out and help the American people understand how big the problem is,” he said. “Once the American people begin to get their arms around the size of the problem, then, and only then, should we begin to lay out an array of possible conversations.”