Obama describes ‘tough choices’ in budget proposal
Spending freezes, higher tax rates for rich featured
WASHINGTON — Defending his new budget as one of “tough choices,’’ President Obama said yesterday that more difficult decisions about the nation’s biggest expenses — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — will have to be tackled by Democrats and Republicans acting together, not by White House dictates.
“This is not a matter of, ‘you go first, I go first,’ ’’ he said. “It’s 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.’’
The president pitched his $3.73 trillion budget as a balance of spending on needed programs and significant reductions that would cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years. The budget includes a mix of spending freezes on domestic programs, pay hike suspensions for federal civilian workers, and new revenues from increased taxes on the wealthy and on oil and gas producers.
At times defensive, Obama offered a tutorial on how Washington works. He voiced exasperation at what he said was the capital’s impatient culture and insistence on immediate results.
“There’s a tendency for us to assume that if it didn’t happen today, it’s not going to happen,’’ he said.
He also pulled the curtain back on the partisan positioning typical of politics, while pressing Republicans to join him at the negotiating table.
“I expect that all sides will have to do a little posturing on television and speak to their constituencies and rally their troops,’’ he said. “But ultimately what we need is a reasonable, responsible, and initially probably somewhat quiet and toned-down conversation about, ‘all right, where can we compromise and get something done.’ ’’
His budget would cut spending on popular energy assistance programs and community development projects. He said the most important thing he can do is focus on the long-term stability of the economy to help the largest number of people.
“I definitely feel folks’ pain,’’ he said, mentioning the gripping stories recounted in the 10 letters a day that he reads from among the thousands received at the White House. “You want to help every single one individually.’’
The president also addressed several questions on the protests rippling across North Africa and the Middle East. He said that governments in the vital, volatile region are learning they “can’t maintain power through coercion.’’ He slammed Iran as an exception, accusing the US foe of beating and shooting protesters.
The public uprisings that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia have ignited protests and violent clashes in Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran. With strategic US interests in each of those countries, Obama conceded he is concerned about the region’s stability. And he encouraged governments to get out ahead of the change.
In his most expansive comments yet about the unrest, Obama signaled that he would stick with his Egyptian model: Prod governments to allow peaceful protests and to respond to grievances, but stay silent about who should run the countries or what change should look like.
The Egyptian experience has cemented Obama’s doctrine of dealing with countries grappling with upheaval: direction that falls short of dictates. He said the lesson for all the nations is that they will only see lasting change, and gain both international and internal support for it, when it comes through “moral force.’’
Obama singled out Iran, where lawmakers are calling for the country’s opposition leaders to face trial and be put to death.
“I find it ironic that 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,’’ he said.
Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.