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Budget cuts: White House says it has come halfway to meet GOP

Before the Obama administration’s budget team met Thursday with congressional Republicans, the White House went on the offensive in arguing that its budget negotiating position is reasonable.

Before the Obama administration’s budget team met Thursday with congressional Republicans, the White House went on the offensive in arguing that its budget negotiating position is reasonable. It also threw some additional unspecified budget cuts on the table.

“The overall point we are making is we want to explain why we feel we have come halfway” in meeting Republicans’ budget-cutting demands, said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer at a briefing. “If and when we resolve this, it will be done in a way in which Republicans won’t get everything they want, and Democrats won’t get everything they want.”

The briefing came as Vice President Joe Biden, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, and budget director Jacob Lew were preparing for a negotiating session with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

At the briefing, Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling offered up $6 billion in cuts that would be in addition to reductions totaling $44.8 billion, which are in the stopgap legislation now funding the federal government. He declined to spell out the nature of the reductions.

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The administration “is prepared to put forward the specific cuts to show we have moved halfway to the Republican House bill and that we are willing to cut spending further if need be,” Mr. Sperling said.

The Obama administration’s goal, he argued, is “to find common ground in a way that does not do harm to the economy either in the short term or in the long term through cutting education, research, innovation – things that are critical to our innovation future.”

The administration’s effort to be seen engaged in preventing a government shutdown seems designed to appeal to independent voters, who play a key role in deciding elections. Also, polls say they want to avoid the government stopping some operations as a result of a budget impasse.

The administration effort may also be in response to calls from Democrats for President Obama to be seen playing a greater role in budget negotiations, lest Republicans set the agenda and claim credit for trimming deficits. According to Bloomberg, at a closed-door lunch for Senate Democrats on Tuesday, New Jersey’s Robert Menendez said of the White House, “I hope they would ratchet it up big time” on dealing with the budget issues.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama signed a stopgap bill that prevents a government shutdown until March 18.

The Republican-controlled House has also passed a measure that cuts domestic spending for the rest of the fiscal year by $61 billion. It targets a number of domestic programs, including implementation of the health-care reform law passed last year. Senate Democrats favor a measure that would keep spending essentially flat, arguing that deeper cuts could be dangerous, given that America’s jobless rate is at 9 percent.

One challenge for Republicans is a deep divide in public attitudes toward budget cuts. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 7 out of 10 tea party backers worry that GOP lawmakers will not go far enough in budget cutting. But that view was countered by the fact that more than half of those surveyed overall feared that Republicans would cut spending too deeply.

Interestingly, the new Journal/NBC poll found that less than a quarter of respondents support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare to tackle the nation’s budget deficit. However, more than half favor raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 by 2075. It now stands at age 66.

More than 60 percent of respondents said they support cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits to wealthier Americans.