The nation's top uniformed officials warned lawmakers recently of dire consequences from even one year's allotment of cuts planned for the Pentagon. "We will have to ground aircraft, return ships to port and stop driving combat vehicles in training," members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote to Congress.
A group of liberal House Democrats wants to replace across-the-board cuts with nearly $1 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, at the same time calling for changes to earlier deficit deals they opposed. The effect would be a "fair, balanced approach that protects working families," they said.
But both groups stayed away from the core reason that Obama and Republicans are at odds. In deficit deal-making to date that totals $3.6 trillion over a decade, the government's costly benefit programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security among them — have been largely untouched.
Both Obama and congressional Republicans have backed suggested savings from Medicare and even Social Security in earlier rounds of talks but, for a variety of reasons, omitted them from the final deals.
Now they're back, at the center of the debate.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama made a point of saying that proposals he had made late last year in talks with Boehner "are still very much on the table."
"I've offered sensible reforms to Medicare and other entitlements, and my health care proposals achieve the same amount of savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that have been proposed by" a bipartisan commission, the president said.
Among them is a measure to slow the annual rise in benefits under Social Security and a variety of other government programs — an approach many congressional Democrats have opposed and like to use as a weapon against Republicans when they suggest it.
McConnell's office noted that the Senate's top Republican leader proposed "more than $100 billion in bipartisan spending reductions" in last winter's talks, some related to Medicare. All were rejected by the administration, the statement added, including a $30 billion item that tracked a proposal Obama had advanced requiring wealthier Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for their care.
EDITOR'S NOTE — David Espo is chief congressional correspondent for The Associated Press.