By Richard Cowan, Reuters
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama raised anew the issue of cutting entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security as a way out of damaging budget cuts, a White House official said on Sunday, as both sides in Washington tried to limit a fiscal crisis that may soon hit millions of Americans. Signaling he might be ready to explore a compromise to end automatic spending cuts that began late Friday, Obama mentioned reforming these entitlement programs in calls with lawmakers from both parties on Saturday afternoon.
“He’s reaching out to Democrats who understand we have to make serious progress on long-term entitlement reform and Republicans who realize that if we had that type of entitlement reform, they’d be willing to have tax reform that raises revenues to lower the deficit,” White House senior economic official Gene Sperling said on Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union.” Republicans have long argued that the only way to tame budget deficits over the long haul is by slowing the cost of sprawling social safety net programs. These include the Social Security retirement program and Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly, disabled and poor that are becoming more expensive as a large segment of the U.S. population hits retirement age.
While Obama also has proposed some savings on these programs, he has insisted that significant new tax revenues be part of the deficit-reduction formula, an idea Republicans so far reject. Budget fights in Congress took their most serious turn in years on Friday when US$85 billion in indiscriminate spending cuts known as “sequestration” began to kick in after both parties failed to agree on how to stop them. Democrats predict the automatic cuts could soon cause air-traffic delays, meat shortages as food safety inspections slow down, and hundreds of thousands of furloughs for federal workers.