In an exclusive interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Barack Obama had this to say about Republicans who want to gut Medicare and replace it with health care "coupons" (vouchers), and cut Social Security before considering any Grand Bargain:
"Well– I understand. Which is why, at some point, I think I take myself out of this. Right now, what I’m trying to do is create an atmosphere where Democrats and Republicans can go ahead, get together, and try to get something done. And, y– you know– I think what’s important to recognize is that– we’ve already cut– $2.5– $2.7 trillion out of the deficit. If the sequester stays in, you’ve got over $3.5 trillion of deficit reduction already."
"And, so, we don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt. In fact, for the next ten years, it’s gonna be in a sustainable place. The question is, can we do it smarter, can we do it better? And– you know, what I’m saying to them is I am prepared to do some tough stuff. Neither side’s gonna get 100%. That’s what the American people are lookin’ for. That’s what’s gonna be good for jobs. That’s what’s gonna be good for growth."
"But ultimately, it may be that– the differences are just– too wide. It may be that ideologically, if their position is, “We can’t do any revenue,” or, “We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,” if that’s the position, then we’re probably not gonna be able to get a deal."
No debt crisis? But, the GOP has been screaming that the sky is falling ever since Obama took office. In fact, a recent poll by Bloomberg News asked Americans whether they believed the budget deficit was growing or shrinking, just six percent answered the question correctly. Ninety-four percent had no clue. And 62 percent actually thought it was getting bigger. So the next time you hear a poll about how Americans think it's important to shrink the budget deficit, remember that 94 percent of us don't even know that it's getting smaller.
In fiscal year 2010, which was President Obama's first full fiscal year in office, the budget deficit was $1.3 trillion. In fiscal year 2013, the Congressional Budget Office projects it will be $845 billion. That's a 35 percent decrease in terms of dollars, and it's even bigger -- 41 percent -- if you're tracking the deficit as a share of the GDP. The percentage drop is even bigger -- roughly 50 percent -- if you start from fiscal year 2009, which overlapped the final year of the Bush presidency and the first year of Obama's.
But what happens if Congress doesn't reach an agreement on the budget?
"That won’t– that won’t create a crisis. It just means that we will have missed an opportunity. I think that opportunity is there and I’m gonna– make sure that they know that I’m prepared to– work with them. But ultimately, it may be better if some Democratic and Republican Senators work together."
I can hear Republicans on the beltway all the way here screaming "Not a crisis?!? Not a crisis?!?" and they can scream all they like. Obama is not going to gut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, and certainly not because of a crisis that doesn't exist. Even the sequester would be better than a budget based completely cuts from programs that serve Americans who need them most. The President has put a deal on the table, and the GOP can either take it while they have the chance, or work with Senate Democrats.
A full transcript of the exchange is available online here.