WASHINGTON (AP) — In a politically incendiary plan, the bipartisan leaders of President Barack Obama's deficit commission proposed curbs in Social Security benefits, deep reductions in federal spending and higher taxes for millions of Americans Wednesday to stem a flood of red ink that they said threatens the nation's very future.
The White House responded coolly, some leading lawmakers less so to proposals that target government programs long considered all but sacred. Besides Social Security, Medicare spending would be curtailed. Tax breaks for many health care plans, too. And the Pentagon's budget, as well, in a plan designed to cut total deficits by as much as $4 trillion over the next decade.
The plan arrived exactly one week after elections that featured strong voter demands for economic change in Washington. But criticism was immediate from advocacy groups on the left and, to some extent, the right at the start of the post-election debate on painful steps necessary to rein in out-of-control deficits.
The plan would gradually increase the retirement age for full Social Security benefits — to 69 by 2075 — and current recipients would receive smaller-than-anticipated annual increases. Equally controversial, it would eliminate the current tax deduction that homeowners receive for the interest they pay on their mortgages.
Obama, in Seoul, South Korea, declined to comment Thursday on the commission's work but said, "We're going to have to take actions that are difficult and we're going to have to tell the truth the American people." He said there was a lot of rhetoric about the nation's debt and deficits but "a lot of the talk didn't match up with reality."
"We need to be straight with the American people," the president said. "We can't just engage in political rhetoric."
No one is expecting quick action on any of the plan's pieces. Proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare are making liberals recoil. And conservative Republicans are having difficulty with options suggested for raising taxes. The plan also calls for cuts in farm subsidies, foreign aid and the Pentagon's budget.