Seniors, Poor Are Prime Targets of Obama Budget Cuts

President Obama will lay out new plans this week to reduce the federal deficit in part by seeking cuts to government programs for seniors and the poor, a top political adviser said Sunday, adding that Americans expect both sides to work together.

President Barack Obama
Photo by: Pete Souza
President Barack Obama

"You're going to have to look at Medicare and Medicaid and see what kind of savings you can get," Obama adviser David Plouffe said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The presidential speech on Wednesday will come during a week in which official Washington pivots froma painful standoff over this year's budget to next year's and beyond, focusing on competing plans to shore up the nation's fiscal health in the long term.

At the top of the week, congressional aides are expected to put to paper the 2011 spending deal struck Friday night, an hour before the government would have begun to shut down. Both houses of Congress were expected to take up that measure at midweek.

Next up is the much more complex fight over the election-year budget in 2012, which Republicans have insisted include steeper cuts than Democrats want. Republicans want to link that issue to whether to raise the nation's debt ceiling, a political and economic knot that lawmakers will spend the coming months trying to unravel.

It's all part of a broader debate over how the government provides for the nation's neediest while strengthening the economy. What's usually a debate about federal spending had shifted into talks about where to cut, and both parties took aim at the chief federal health programs for the elderly and the poor, Medicare and Medicaid.

For all the forward focus, congressional officials still had loose ends to handle leading up to the vote at midweek on the remainder of this year's budget.

Friday night's House vote left lawmakers with little time to react. The 348-70 tally to fund the government through the week offered a look at which Republicans were the staunchest opponents of any deal. Of the 70 'no' votes, 28 were cast by Republicans.

"This short-term was just 'same ol', same ol" for Washington," one freshman who voted no, Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, wrote on his Facebook page.

The $38.5 billion in cuts, Huelskamp wrote, "barely make a dent" in years of trillion-dollar deficits and the nation's $14 trillion debt. Additionally, the measure lacked the policy riders he sought, such as one to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, though by law no federal money goes to its abortion services.

All told, Huelskamp wrote, the measure "ignores the fundamental reasons I and my fellow freshmen members of Congress were sent to Washington in November of last year."

Even as they analyzed the defections Sunday, Republicans celebrated the thematic win.

"We've had to bring this president kicking and screaming to the table to cut spending," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on "Fox News Sunday."

Plouffe, Obama's messenger, shuttled around the dial, seeking to link December's bipartisan deal on tax cuts with Friday night's nail-biter agreement on this year's budget as evidence that both parties can govern together when they want to.

"Compromise is not a dirty word," Plouffe said on ABC's "This Week."

The president, Plouffe said, would address ways to reduce the deficit and the long-term, $14 trillion debt. He gave few specifics, but he said the president believes taxes should go up on higher-income Americans and that cuts to Medicare and Medicaid will be necessary.

Obama's speech will come as the debate shifts to the far more delicate ground of the budget paying for the government next year — when the president and most of Congress are up for re-election.

Republicans said Friday night's deal in no way means they're ready to compromise on the fiscal debates ahead, starting with the House Republicans' $3.5 trillion spending plan for next year.

The GOP blueprint, unveiled last week by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would slash federal spending by $5 trillion or more over the coming decade and repeal Obama's signature health care law.

It would leave Social Security untouched but shift more of the risk from rising medical costs from the government to Medicare beneficiaries. It also calls for sharp cuts to Medicaid health care for the poor and disabled and to food aid for the poor.

In events over the next week, Democrats planned to cast the GOP plan as a devastating assault on Americans who need government help the most.