By DAVID ESPO
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ President Barack Obama's first budget of his new term is a political straddle, aimed at enticing Republicans into a new round of deficit negotiations while trying to keep faith with Democrats who favor higher taxes in service of more government spending.
That gives everyone something to dislike if they are so inclined â¿¿ and many in divided government are.
Obama's stated goal is otherwise, namely that his $3.8 trillion budget should lead to the completion of a slow-motion grand deficit-cutting bargain by offering to save billions from programs previously sheltered from cuts. Medicare, Social Security and even military retirement are among them.
Perhaps to reassure Democrats unsettled by this approach, the president said his offer to trim future benefit increases for tens of millions of people is "less than optimal" and acceptable only if Republicans simultaneously agree to raise taxes on the wealthy and some businesses.
"If anyone thinks I'll finish the job of deficit reduction on the backs of middle-class families or through spending cuts alone that actually hurt our economy short-term, they should think again," he said in an appearance Wednesday in the White House's Rose Garden.
In rhetoric reminiscent of last year's campaign, he added, "When it comes to deficit reduction, I've already met Republicans more than halfway."
That's not how they see it, and the issue was doubtless on the menu at the dinner for a dozen Republican senators that the president invited to the White House several hours later.
The early public reaction from Republicans was generally predictable, and none too positive.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the president deserves "some credit for some of the incremental entitlement reforms that he has outlined in his budget.
"But I would hope that he would not hold hostage these modest reforms for his demand for bigger tax hikes," Congress' top Republican added, a repudiation of Obama's insistence on higher taxes.