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Social Security needs bipartisan action, Obama says

Social Security, Medicare not addressed in president's budget proposal, even though his budget commission did tackle Social Security.

By Associated Press / February 16, 2011

President Obama gestures during a news conference on the White House complex in Washington, Feb. 15, 2011. Future deficits of Social Security can only be handled if both parties agree to serious reforms, he says.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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WASHINGTON

Defending his new budget as one of "tough choices," President Barack Obama said Tuesday that more difficult decisions about the nation's biggest expenses — Medicare, Medicaid andSocial Security — will have to be tackled by Democrats and Republicans acting together, not by White House dictates.

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"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.

But Obama's deficit relief is far more modest than that detailed by his fiscal commission, which in December proposed measures that would mop up four times as much red ink. Unlike his blue-ribbon group, the administration's budget does not address structural changes in Social Security or Medicare, the two largest items in the federal budget.

"Look at the history of how these deals get done," Obama said Tuesday. "Typically it's not because there's an Obama plan out there. It's because Democrats and Republicans are committed to tackling this in a serious way."

The commission's bipartisan report included politically difficult recommendation such as increasing theSocial Security retirement age and reducing future increases in benefits. And while Obama has promised to overhaul the corporate tax system, he stops short of commission recommendations that would lower rates but generate additional revenue at the same. Obama has called for "revenue neutral" fixes to corporate taxes, meaning they would neither cost more money nor add money to the treasury.

"I'm not suggesting we don't have to do more," the president said.

At times defensive, Obama used his news conference to offer his own tutorial on how Washington works.

He voiced exasperation at what he said was the capital's impatient culture and its insistence on immediate results. He said he faced the same demands on health care, the military's don't-ask, don't-tell policy on gays, and on the uprising in Egypt.