Cost-cut talk is long on emotion, short on details

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 15, 2013 at 2:18 am •  Published: January 15, 2013

At a news conference Monday, Obama needled Republicans for advocating huge cuts without detailing where the pain would fall.

"Congress has not been able to identify $1.2 trillion in cuts that they're happy with," the president said, "because these same Republicans say they don't want to cut defense. They've claimed that they don't want to gut Medicare or harm the vulnerable. But the truth of the matter is that you can't meet their own criteria without drastically cutting Medicare, or having an impact on Medicaid, or affecting our defense spending."

The math, Obama said, "doesn't add up."

Obama said he remains "open to making modest adjustments to programs like Medicare to protect them for future generations."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Obama must do more. "We are hoping for a new seriousness on the part of the president with regard to the single biggest issue confronting the country," which is the debt and deficit, McConnell said.

White House aides say Obama detailed lots of proposed spending cuts in his 2013 budget proposal, which Congress rejected. Among other things, it called for reductions in health research, pollution control, education and military spending.

If Republicans want more detailed talks on spending cuts, Obama says, they must agree to new revenue.

No way, GOP leaders say.

The Republican Party's chief spokesman on tax and spending issues — House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee — has acknowledged the political dangers of detailing plans to cut federal spending. He left out specific plans for slowing Social Security's growth, he told a 2011 audience, because "we thought that if we put one out there, it would just be too tempting for the Democrats to attack."

A November Associated Press-GfK poll about ways to combat deficit spending found substantially more support for reducing spending than for raising taxes. When examined individually, however, proposed cuts drew scant enthusiasm.

More adults opposed military spending cuts than supported them. Nearly half of Americans opposed raising the Medicare eligibility age or slowing its cost-of-living adjustments. Far fewer favored those ideas.

The pro-Democratic group Third Way says Americans are ready to swallow tough decisions about Medicare and Social Security, if politicians present them in a serious, bipartisan way.

Third Way co-founder Jim Kessler says focus groups prove that Americans don't like the idea of reduced benefits, "but they know something has to be done."

"Voters will forgive a bipartisan solution" to the entitlement programs' long-term funding problems, Kessler said.

"It's like going to the dentist," he said. No one enjoys it, "but you know it's the right thing to do."