The White House said Thursday that President Barack Obama is committed to working with congressional Republicans and Democrats to achieve compromises on his 2012 budget, and on spending levels for the current fiscal year as well as on longer-term fiscal issues. Mr. Obama's spokesman also hit back at Republicans who assert that the president is not showing enough leadership.
The president's 2012 budget proposes cuts in what his administration sees as inefficient or wasteful government programs, and projects a reduction of $400 billion in non-defense, discretionary spending.
Mr. Obama says that in the long run, the budget for the next fiscal year will by the middle of the decade result in no additions to a national debt that now exceeds $14 trillion.
Republicans say the budget continues a process of deficit spending and tax increases that they assert harm prospects for job creation. And they accuse Mr. Obama of failing to demonstrate true leadership.
Republicans have yet to unveil their own formal budget counter-proposal, which is expected in April, one they say will contrast sharply with the president's $3.73 trillion blueprint for 2012.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner accused Mr. Obama of failing to take the lead on discussions to solve the nation's fiscal problems, which include tackling strains on the economy from huge, expensive programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
"We need to have an adult conversation on entitlements and the president needs to lead that discussion," said Boehner. "He was elected to lead, not to sit on the sidelines. It's also clear we need to have a conversation with leaders in his own [Democratic] party who continue to deny that there is even a problem."
What form that "adult conversation" might take is unclear. President Obama said in a news conference this week that it will require a spirit of cooperation, and that to accomplish anything will require putting aside political posturing.
"Ultimately, what we need is a reasonable, responsible and initially, probably, somewhat quiet and toned-down conversation about, 'All right, where can we compromise and get something done," said President Obama.
In Thursday's White House news briefing, the president's spokesman, Jay Carney, defended Mr. Obama's budget as an "extraordinary proposal."
Carney reiterated the president's overall goal of reaching an agreement on spending reductions, saying what is important is that discussions are "reasonable" and "calm" . . .
". . . to ensure that the goal and focus of our policies is economic growth, job creation, living within our means and avoiding the kind of conflict that can harm our potential to achieve those goals," said Carney.
But the White House says it will not accept Republican efforts to cut $100 billion from current fiscal year spending.
The president has threatened to veto any legislation that he says would "undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation."
Adding to worries in the current spending debate is the possibility of a government shutdown, which would occur if Congress and the White House are unable to agree on extending temporary funding legislation that will expire on March 4.
House Speaker Boehner said Republicans will reject any short-term extension to keep government operating, if it does not reduce present spending.
"I am not going to move any kind of short-term [continuing resolution] at current levels," he said. "When we say we're going to cut spending. Read my lips. We're going to cut spending."
Boehner also threatened to pursue cuts in what he called "wasteful, mandatory spending," in government benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid accused Republicans of seeking a government shutdown.
Asked if he was ready to broker an "adult conversation" with Reid and President Obama to keep this from happening, Boehner said that he hopes the president and Senate Democrats are "ready to get serious" about cutting spending.