The Obama administration said Sunday that it is searching for rank-and-file Republicans willing to work with the president on a budget deal who "don't think compromise is a dirty word."
The outreach was made just days before President Obama plans to formally unveil his proposed 2014 federal budget, but details of the blueprint that leaked early have Republican leaders and Mr. Obama's liberal base fuming.
"What we're looking for is what the president called a caucus of common sense — folks who are willing to compromise and who understand that in a divided government, both sides aren't going to get everything they want," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on "Fox News Sunday."
President Obama will have a chance to find more allies in the GOP on Wednesday, when he is scheduled to have dinner with Republican senators the same day his proposed budget is officially released.
"The White House has been in contact with a lot of those folks, a lot of the Senate Republicans that we had dinner with, and so there's an opening there," Mr. Pfeiffer said on ABC's "This Week."
Mr. Pfeiffer warned that the White House will have little patience for Republicans who maintain a single-minded philosophy.
"If the Republicans, particularly in the House, take a 'my way or the highway' approach, then we're not going to get a deal," he said. "Simple as that."
Looking for allies
Senior White House officials said Friday that the fiscal 2014 budget cuts the deficit by $1.8 trillion over 10 years and changes the way annual Social Security benefits are calculated — while also calling for higher taxes.
Because the president's budget also wipes out the $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts, Republicans argue that it would produce only $600 billion in net savings, a third of what the White House claims.
Mr. Obama's spending blueprint will propose moving the inflation measure to the "chained" consumer price index to slow the growth of Social Security benefits by reducing payments over time to seniors and future retirees.
It also will call for higher-income beneficiaries to pay more for Medicare coverage and for $600 billion more in revenue, most of which would come from capping deductions that those in higher tax brackets can claim.
Republicans rejected the idea of new taxes, arguing that they agreed to tax increases as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal that passed Congress early in the year. The budget focus now should be on spending cuts alone, they insist.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called the changes to Social Security "modest" and said Mr. Obama reportedly intends to offer them only if Republicans agree to increase taxes for the second time this year.
"If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there's no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes," Mr. Boehner said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, was more receptive Sunday. "The president is showing a little bit of leg here; this is somewhat encouraging," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We're beginning to set the stage for the grand bargain."
Congressional Democratic leaders have been largely noncommittal about the White House budget, but some of the president's biggest allies have lashed out since details emerged.
Robert Reich, labor secretary under President Clinton, said in a MoveOn.org press release that "Social Security is not driving the deficit, therefore it should not be part of reforms aimed at cutting the deficit."
"The chained [consumer price index], deceptively portrayed as a reasonable cost-of-living adjustment, is a cut to Social Security that would hurt seniors," Mr. Reich said.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, sent an email that said the Democratic president was turning his back on a promise he made in 2008 not to cut Social Security.
"If Obama is serious about dealing with our deficit, he would not cut Social Security — which has not added one penny to the deficit," Mr. Sanders said. "Instead, he would support legislation that ends the absurdity of one out of four profitable corporations paying nothing in federal income taxes. He would also help us close the offshore tax haven loopholes that enable large corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying $100 billion a year in federal taxes."
One liberal group vowed to recruit a primary opponent for any Democrat in Congress who votes for a plan that cuts Social Security.
"You can't call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts," said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Groups devoted to safeguarding Social Security said Mr. Obama appears to be using changes to the seniors' entitlement program as a bargaining chip.
"Evidently, the president either does not understand or does not care how critically important Social Security and Medicare are, not just to seniors but to middle-aged and younger workers for whom these programs are likely to be even more crucial," said Eric Kingson, a co-chairman of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition.
He said Mr. Obama is breaking his election campaign promise to protect America's social safety net.
"What he and other elites call 'tweaks' are deep cuts that will take away the bread and butter of seniors, people with disabilities, children who have lost parents, veterans who have served this nation and others," he said. "He promised he would not slash benefits; he has broken his promise to the American people."
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