President Barack Obama defended his budget Tuesday against GOP criticisms during a last-minute press conference.
“There are going to be plenty of arguments in the months to come, and everybody’s going to have to give a little bit. But when it comes to difficult choices about our budget and our priorities, we have found common ground before,” Obama said, citing the tax package that passed with broad bipartisan support in December.
The president’s budget landed with a thud Monday on Capitol Hill, where Republicans have criticized Obama for bypassing the nation’s fast-growing entitlements in his $3.7 trillion fiscal 2012 spending blueprint. The president said he welcomed GOP leaders singling out the need for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, something he said he agreed needs to happen but after more “toned-down” conversations can take place about areas of common ground.
“We’re going to be in discussions over the next several months,” Obama said. “The key thing that I think the American people want to see is that all sides are serious about it and all sides are willing to give a little bit, and that there’s a genuine spirit of compromise as opposed to people being interested in scoring political points.”
He added, “Nobody is more mindful than me that entitlements are going to be a key part of this issue.”
The president dismissed another GOP criticism that his budget ignores the recommendations of his fiscal commission.
“The notion that it’s been shelved I think is incorrect. It still provides a framework for a conversation,” he said. “This is a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over. And I think that can happen.”
Obama also responded to concerns from his own party about his cuts to services for vulnerable populations, namely Pell Grants and Community Development Block Grants. He called these decisions “tough,” particularly since he used to be a community organizer, but he said he has to stay focused over the long term.
“Look, I definitely feel folks’ pain,” he said.
On the foreign policy front, Obama said the outcome in Egypt shows that “in a complicated situation, we got it about right” by not trying to dictate the outcome of the uprising.
“At every juncture, we were on the right side of history,” he said.
The president also took a shot at Iranian leaders for their “ironic” response to the situation in Egypt.
“You’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran,” Obama said.
He said Iran should see that the lesson of Egypt is that change ultimately comes not because of terrorism but “because people come together and apply moral force to a situation. That’s what garners international support. That’s what garners internal support.”