Obama: I didn't punt on entitlement reform in federal budget

Critics complain that President Obama's federal budget doesn't trim entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid. But Obama said that reform will come about through bipartisan negotiation.

Evan Vucci/AP
President Obama gestures during a news conference in Washington Tuesday.

President Obama pushed back Tuesday on bipartisan criticism that his 2012 budget proposal fails to address the unchecked growth of government entitlement programs – foremost Medicare and Medicaid, which are big contributors to the nation’s unsustainable fiscal picture.

In an hour-long press conference, Mr. Obama suggested the omission was by design, and that the goal is to reach consensus in a negotiation, not through public posturing. Obama also asserted that the report last December by his bipartisan deficit commission, which called for far steeper deficit reduction than in his 2012 budget, has not been “shelved;” it still provides the “framework” for a conversation.

"Look at the history of how these deals get done," Obama said. "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."

RELATED: Can economy's 2010 growth spurt last? Five clues.

Obama referred to the 1983 deal struck by President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill addressing the insolvency of Social Security as a model of bipartisan problem-solving. He suggested the same approach in tackling entitlement reform and tax reform.

“This is going to be a process in which each side, in both chambers of Congress, go back and forth and start trying to whittle their differences down until we arrive at something,” Obama said. That’s his “goal,” he said, not to “get a good headline on the first day.”

Patience urged for 'negotiation process'

Obama also chided the news media for being “pretty impatient,” not just on his approach to the deficit commission but also on Egypt, health-care reform, and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” By referencing those three historic events that took place on his watch, Obama in effect promised progress, sooner or later, in addressing the nation’s structural deficits. He left the timing vague.

“We're going to be in discussions over the next several months,” he said. “I mean, this is going to be a negotiation process.”

When asked about the possibility of a government shutdown, if Congress and the president cannot agree upon funding levels beyond March 4, Obama again preached bipartisan negotiation. He warned against making “symbolic cuts” that could endanger the economic recovery.

“Let’s use a scalpel. Let’s not use a machete,” he said. “And if we do that, there should be no reason at all for a government shutdown.”

Expects Iranians to have 'courage'

On events in the Middle East, Obama called on governments throughout the region not to crack down on peaceful protesters.

On the situation in Iran, where protesters have been shot, beaten, and arrested, he said, “my hope and expectation is that we're going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government, understanding that America cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran any more than it could inside of Egypt.”

Obama said that his administration is concerned about stability throughout the region. His message to “friend and foe alike” is that “the world is changing.”

“You have a young, vibrant generation in – within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity,” he said, “and ... if you are governing these countries you've got to get out ahead of change, you can't be behind the curve.”

RELATED: Can economy's 2010 growth spurt last? Five clues.

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