WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Sen. Tom Coburn, good friends who rarely agree on policy matters, gave dueling perspectives on deficit reduction Saturday, after a work week in Washington that focused intensely on the nation's debt.
In his weekly address, the Democratic president repeated the themes of his fiscal policy speech Wednesday, saying that a balanced budget would require a balance of spending cuts and tax hikes.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, countered in the Republican response that Obama has failed to put a serious deficit plan on the table.
Coburn served on the president's fiscal commission, which recommended spending cuts, changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and an overhaul of the nation's tax code to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction through 2020. Coburn supported the plan, but it didn't get enough votes to force congressional action, and Obama never embraced its proposals.
Obama last week outlined his goal to save $4 trillion over 12 years, but made no specific proposals for some of the biggest government programs.
On Saturday, the president called on Republicans and Democrats to work together, but he also attacked the House Republican budget approved Friday.
“It's a vision that says that in order to reduce the deficit, we have to end Medicare as we know it and make cuts to Medicaid that would leave millions of seniors, poor children and Americans with disabilities without the care they need,” the president said.
“But even as this plan proposes these drastic cuts, it would also give $1 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans — an extra $200,000 for every millionaire and billionaire in the country.”
Obama wants tax cuts to expire for those making more than $250,000 a year.
Coburn, who has been friends with Obama since they were elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, said the president missed an opportunity last week in his speech.
“Instead of describing the threat and bringing both sides together, the president attacked those who have a different vision of the government,” Coburn said.
“As leaders we have a moral obligation to tell the country the truth. The truth is, we could face a serious debt crisis sooner than anyone expects. We face an unsustainable debt and unsustainable entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — all of which will collapse if they're not reformed.”
Obama pledged to work with anyone willing to take on the nation's debt, and Coburn called on all involved to put their political careers on the line to get the work done.
Crediting House Republicans, Coburn said, “Instead of increasing spending, Congress is now cutting spending. That is a monumental shift for Washington.”