WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Congress are shifting from short-term budget concerns to debates over the nation’s long-term economic future, and everything – from Medicare and Medicaid cuts to tax hikes for the wealthy – is on the table.
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Much will be revealed at midweek, when the House and Senate are expected to vote on a budget for the remainder of this fiscal year and Obama unveils his plan to reduce the deficit, in part by scaling back the government’s chief health programs for seniors and the poor. The House, too, may vote on Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s spending plan for next year as Democrats readied arguments that it proposed “Draconian” cuts to Americans who need help the most.
Meanwhile, congressional officials were putting to paper a deal struck Friday night that would fund the government through September and cut $38.5 billion in spending. They were operating under a one-week extension of the budget, which passed the House and Senate in the last hour before the government was to begin shutting down.
The House’s 348-70 vote to extend funding a few days provided no guarantees for the measure being written Monday that would fund the government through the next six months, but leadership aides said they expected it to pass as early as Wednesday.
Whatever its fate, official Washington raced ahead to frame the upcoming fight over raising the nation’s debt limit and the election-year budget as a pair of interconnected battles that would make Friday’s nail-biter seem minor.
To be sure, the GOP had succeeded in turning what’s usually a fight over spending into a series of battles over spending cuts – a thematic victory for House Republicans swept to power by a populist mandate for smaller, more austere government.
“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.”
Presidential adviser David Plouffe said Obama has long been committed to finding ways for the nation to spend within its means. He confirmed that the president would unveil more specifics for deficit reduction with a speech Wednesday that would reveal plans to reduce the government’s chief health programs for seniors and the poor.
“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 Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
But he contrasted Obama’s approach to the Republicans in familiar terms.
“We can’t take a machete,” Plouffe said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We have to take a scalpel, and we’re going to have to cut, we’re going to have to look carefully.”
Away from the talk shows, congressional officials still were analyzing Friday’s vote to fund the government through the week.
The late hour of Friday’s handshake left lawmakers little time to react. House members of both parties who voted for a few days’ funding could not say on Sunday that they’d vote for the plan to fund the government through September.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who voted “yes” Friday to extend funding this week while the final compromise was written, said he was nonetheless undecided on whether he’d vote for the final deal. On ABC’s “This Week,” he said he didn’t think the six-month compromise would pass.
On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., also a “yes” vote on Friday, would not commit to voting for the six-month deal either.
Pence praised House Speaker John Boehner for fighting “the good fight.”
“It sounds like John Boehner got a good deal, probably not good enough for me to support it, but a good deal nonetheless,” Pence said on ABC.
Friday’s tally also offered a look at Republicans likely to be the staunchest opponents of any compromises on spending and policy.
Twenty-eight of the “no” votes were cast by Republicans. Sixteen of those are members of the 87-member freshman class. Also voting no: tea party star and possible presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
“This short-term was just ‘same ol’, same ol” for Washington,” one newcomer 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.”
Plouffe said the president understands the mandate to dramatically cut spending. On talk show after talk show, he pointed to December’s bipartisan deal on tax cuts with Friday night’s 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.
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 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 government budget for next year – when the president and most of Congress are up for re-election.