Obama speech this week promises bigger fights ahead on debt and spending

Congress and the White House may have resolved one budget crisis. But comments on the Sunday talk shows indicate bigger fights ahead over federal debt and government spending.

William B. Plowman/NBC/AP
White House senior adviser David Plouffe is interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press" in Washington Sunday, April 10. Plouffe said President Obama will lay out new plans this week to reduce the federal deficit. Comments by GOP lawmakers indicate a tough fight ahead.

There may have been a few hours of respite and bipartisan bonhomie following Friday’s late-night temporary resolution to the FY 2011 budget crisis. But by Sunday morning, the principals were back at it – staking out partisan positions in a way that promises even bigger fights over federal debt and government spending.

Making the rounds of TV news shows, White House senior adviser David Plouffe said President Obama will detail his position on deficit reduction in a speech Wednesday. Plouffe was a key figure in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and he took up his White House post in January.

“The president clearly believes that we can still grow economically with smart deficit reduction,” Plouffe said on CNN’s State of the Union. “But it’s got to be smart. If we’re just going to cut student loans, cut Head Start, cut medical research, we’re not going to be the country in terms of the economy that we need to be.”

For Obama, cutting the deficit means still pushing for an end to the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans – a fight Obama has yet to win. “People like him, as he’ll say, who’ve been very fortunate in life, have the ability to pay a little bit more,” Plouffe said on NBC’s Meet the Press, emphasizing that this does not mean the middle class.

Obama’s speech is expected to cover domestic and defense spending as well as Medicare and Medicaid, the federal deficit, and the long-term $14 trillion debt.

The bipartisan agreement reached Friday just before the midnight deadline for a government shutdown knocked $78.5 billion off President Obama’s FY 2011 budget request and cut spending levels for the rest of the fiscal year (through September) by $37.7 billion. That’s scheduled to become law this week.

The GOP position all along has been that “we’ve had to bring this president kicking and screaming to the table to cut spending,” as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, (R) of Virginia, said on Fox News Sunday. “It’s really hard to believe what this White House and what this president is saying.”

“I hear they’re going to present a plan … to address the fiscal situation. And right away, they’re insisting that we have to go about looking at raising taxes again,” Cantor said.

The Republican budget blueprint, as laid out last week by Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, would cut federal spending by some $6 trillion over the next 10 years while overhauling Medicare and Medicaid, repealing the health care reform law passed last year, and changing the tax code to benefit businesses and wealthy individuals.

Under the Ryan plan, Plouffe claims, “The average millionaire in this country would get at least a $200,000 tax cut while the average senior down the road is going to pay $6,000 more in health costs, the middle-class is going to pay more, you’ve got a 70 percent cut in energy investment at a time of record gas prices.”

Asked on “Meet the Press” about the chances that Ryan’s plan would pass, Plouffe said, “It may pass the House, but it’s not going to become the law.”

As for Obama’s upcoming speech, Republicans – always wary of his skills as a communicator – are skeptical.

“I think he needs to do more than just give a speech,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R) of Alabama, senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, told Fox News. “I think he needs to submit a new budget.”

Both Sessions and Cantor suggested there would be no increase in the debt limit without deeper spending cuts.

“There is no way that we Republicans are going to support increasing the debt limit without guaranteed steps being put in place to ensure that the spending doesn’t get out of control again,” Cantor said.

To many Democrats, that sounds a lot like a threat that could lead to another government shutdown, not to mention damage to global credit markets.

Or as Plouffe put it on Meet the Press: “We should not be playing brinksmanship with the full faith and credit of the United States of America.”

All parties can agree on at least one thing David Plouffe said Sunday: “We’re going to have a big debate.”

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