Two top Obama administration officials told Congress on Thursday that the president made significant concessions to Republicans when drafting the budget proposal he released this week, hoping to set the groundwork for a grand bargain.
But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and acting White House Budget Director Jeffrey Zients faced withering criticism Thursday from Republicans, who said Mr. Obama was too timid in his proposed cuts and too optimistic in his tax increases.
“While there are glimmers of hope in the budget, it is, overall, a disappointment,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said at the outset of Mr. Lew’s appearance before the Senate Finance Committee.
Mr. Obama sent his fiscal 2014 budget to Congress on Wednesday — a $3.77 trillion spending plan that would raise hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes and commit his administration to limiting entitlements in part by changing the way Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. Executive branch agency heads fanned out across the Hill on Thursday to explain and defend the president’s spending plans.
The Obama budget projects that debt, calculated as a percentage of the economy, will stabilize by the end of the decade, but never balance in that span. By contrast, the House GOP budget does come into balance in 10 years, and begins to lower the government’s debt burden.
“In December, we were perhaps one or two turns of the wheel away from an agreement,” he told the House Ways and Means Committee. “It didn’t come together, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.”
And Mr. Zients, speaking to the House and Senate Budget Committees, said the president made a major concession in showing his willingness to constrain Social Security spending. But he stressed that it will only happen as part of a broader deal that includes tax increases.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, said that leaves little reason to be optimistic.
“What this budget provides is the old-time Democrat religion of tax and spend,” said the Alabama lawmaker during a hearing attended by Mr. Zients. “This is not a compromise plan.”
Even as the GOP rejected Mr. Obama’s tax increases, his overture on Social Security left some in his own party steaming.
“I don’t care where it came from, I don’t care if it was Speaker Boehner’s idea, it is wrong,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat. “Anything I can do to be a foe of that, I intend to do.”
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the president’s budget opens a window to a deal, if the GOP will see it.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the president deserves credit for “challenging his party on entitlements,” such as proposed Medicare reforms. But he called the proposal “a missed opportunity.”
“We’re disappointed in this budget because it’s a status quo budget,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “It doesn’t break any new ground.”