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Roll Call

Graham Finds Obama Budget Plans 'Somewhat Encouraging'

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday that President Barack Obama is “showing a little bit of leg” by proposing a budget that includes cuts to entitlement programs, a concession that Republicans have long demanded.

“The president’s showing a little bit of leg here. This is somewhat encouraging,” the South Carolina Republican said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to the White House’s announcement that Obama’s budget would for the first time propose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, even though Democrats have strongly opposed such cuts in the past.

Obama is set to unveil his budget Wednesday.

Graham said Sunday that “there are nuggets of his budget that are optimistic” and that cuts to entitlement programs, which the president is expected to offer in exchange for changes to the tax code that would bring in more revenue, could lay the groundwork for a sweeping deal.

“We’re beginning to set the stage for the grand bargain,” Graham said.

But while Graham expressed optimism about what the president is set to propose this week, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on Friday dismissed the reported cuts to Social Security and Medicare as an insufficient trade-off for higher taxes.

“If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s no way to lead and move the country forward.”

White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer pushed back against Boehner’s statement in his own TV appearances Sunday, countering that Obama was soundly re-elected in November and would not offer the kind of austere budget backed by the Republican he defeated in the election, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“If Speaker Boehner’s position, as he said it in that statement, remains his position, then we will not make progress because what this president will not do is come in, right after getting reelected, and enact a Romney economic plan, which is what the Republicans in the House are proposing,” Pfeiffer said on ABC’s “This Week.”

He added that Obama would reach out to lawmakers “who are willing to compromise, who don’t think compromise is a dirty word, and try to get something done.”

Pfeiffer said Obama would offer a balanced approach to federal spending that would simultaneously address the nation’s deficit while investing in job creation and other programs.

“We don’t have to choose between deficits as far as the eye can see and job creation and economic growth. You can do both,” he said. “Our budget includes investments in infrastructure, bringing jobs back to America, preschool for everyone, while still bringing our deficits down.”

Among the steps that Obama will propose Wednesday is a call for a “chained” consumer price index, which would change the way that inflation is measured for Social Security and could result in benefit reductions. Republicans have supported such a proposal in the past, but Pfeiffer said Obama would offer it on only two conditions.

“Those two conditions are, one, it’s part of a balanced package that includes closing tax loopholes to benefit the wealthiest and, two, that it has protections for the most vulnerable, including the oldest seniors,” he said, adding that the president’s plan for chained CPI will “absolutely” have exceptions, or carve-outs, for certain groups.

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