Editorial: Obama offers budget compromise; Republicans can't wait to reject it

Published: Saturday, Apr. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A

They're being entirely unreasonable, full of bluster and demonstrating little care for the consequences.

No, we're not talking about North Korean leaders. This case study in irresponsible behavior comes courtesy of top Republicans in Congress, who are dismissing out of hand President Barack Obama's latest budget offer.

GOP leaders profess to want to bring down the federal deficit. They insist on savings in entitlement programs as part of any long-term budget agreement.

Obama is taking a political risk by offering some entitlement cuts, much to the consternation of liberal advocacy groups and labor unions.

His plan includes reductions in Medicare spending by lowering payments to health care providers and pharmaceutical companies and by requiring wealthier seniors to pay higher premiums or co-pays.

The key feature is a highly controversial change in calculating inflation that would lower annual cost-of-living increases in a broad array of programs – most notably Social Security, but also ones benefiting veterans, the disabled and poor families. The adjustment also would affect federal income tax brackets, meaning that some middle-class taxpayers would pay more.

There are many details to be studied in Obama's budget, due out Wednesday, before any final judgment can be made. For instance, the White House said Friday that the cost-of-living change would include protections for "vulnerable" recipients.

That's crucial. Liberal critics warn that people who rely on these payments would be hit too hard, particularly over the long term. It certainly makes no sense to throw more Americans into poverty just as the economy is starting to recover.

Top Republicans, however, couldn't wait to declare Obama's plan dead, even before arrival.

The deal-breaker for Republicans is that the president is proposing to raise more tax revenue, in part by limiting tax deductions for wealthier Americans. House Speaker John Boehner fired off a statement Friday that "modest entitlement savings" should not be "held hostage for more tax hikes."

Yet, a balanced approach is what most Americans support and is how to most fairly parcel out the pain.

Congress and Obama have already agreed on a projected $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade through budget cuts and the end of Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. The White House says the president's plan would trim another $1.8 trillion in the next 10 years, and do so in a smarter way than the $1.2 trillion in scheduled across-the-board budget cuts, which don't distinguish between good programs and bad.

In a divided government like the one we have, no progress is going to be made on the big issues without some give and take. White House spokesman Jay Carney called the president's budget proposal "a good-faith compromise."

When Obama reaches out to Republicans, however, he almost always gets his hand slapped. That's a recipe for more of the partisan gridlock that has stymied progress in Washington, D.C., for far too long.

And Republicans wonder why voters rejected many of them in November.

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