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Gregg: Obama not leading on deficits and debt

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A member of President Obama’s high-profile deficit commission said Wednesday that the White House missed an opportunity to lead the country back onto the path of long-term fiscal health when it rolled out a 2012 budget that did not tackle the popular entitlement programs that are the biggest drivers of federal spending.

Recently retired Sen. Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican who served on the commission and embraced its sweeping recommendations, told The Washington Times that the president had “walked away” from the panel’s suggested reforms to entitlements and the federal tax code and was “basically giving up an opportunity to be a leader.”

“I think that is a huge opportunity that is being frittered away,” Mr. Gregg told The Times. “The problem is there is not a lot of time here. We don’t know when the markets are going to lose confidence, but when the heard moves against you, it is hard to stop.”

The Republican also questioned Mr. Obama’s economic assumptions, suggesting they painted too rosy a fiscal picture.

“He’s put some very optimistic numbers in here that are probably not viable — both on revenues and interest rates,” Mr. Gregg said.

The president has come under heavy fire since releasing a $3.7 trillion spending plan Monday that showed the annual deficit for 2011 would reach $1.6 trillion and did not touch entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Social Security. On Tuesday, he deflected criticism that his budget was too tepid, telling reporters that his spending blueprint paves the way for bipartisan collaboration by stabilizing the nation’s discretionary spending so that both parties can then come together to solve the budget’s long-term structural problems.

Mr. Obama’s budget came roughly two months after three Senate Republicans — Mr. Gregg, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Crapo of Utah — and eight other members of the commission supported the panel’s final report, which aimed to reduce deficits by $4 trillion by 2020 with a combination of revenue increases and tax cuts, while also calling for reforms to Social Security to put it on a more solid footing over the next 75 years.

But the 18-member commission fell short of the 14-vote supermajority Mr. Obama said would be needed to automatically to bring the recommendations to Congress for a vote.

Going forward, Mr. Gregg said his advice now would be for Mr. Obama, House Speaker John A. Boehner, and a Republican and Democrat from the Senate to sit down behind closed doors to hash out a substantive deficit reduction plan that would be acceptable to both parties.

“There is no point in the House coming forward unilaterally on entitlement reform at this time because the president has taken a walk,” he said.

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