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Bessent: It's time for Barack Obama and congressional Republicans to stop flirting and hook up

President Barack Obama and Senate Sergeant At Armes

President Barack Obama and Senate Sergeant At Armes Terrance Gainer emerge from the Lyndon B. Johnson Room after meeting with Senate Republicans at the Capitol. (Mar. 14, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans have been dating lately, but they haven’t decided whether to hook-up and consummate a budget deal. They should.

Reacting to criticism that he’s too aloof, Obama went to Capital Hill today to see Senate Republicans. He stopped by Wednesday to visit with House Republicans. And last week he took a few GOP Senators out to dinner at a posh hotel near the White House.

The president’s charm offensive came in the same week that House Republicans and Senate Democrats unveiled separate 2014 budget proposals. But what they delivered is just old wine in new bottles. The parties still have fundamental differences on how, and how urgently, to rein in budget deficits — which have already dropped from $1.4 trillion in 2009 to a projected $845 billion this year.

Republicans have made eliminating deficits their consuming passion. Obama doesn’t see the urgency. “Our biggest problems in the next 10 years are not deficits,” he said Wednesday. And congressional Democrats only want to bring deficits down to a manageable level — often defined as the point where the national debt is growing no faster than the economy.

Those differences are reflected in the competing budgets.

House Republicans want to cut spending by $4.6 trillion en route to balancing the budget in 10 years. Their plan would lower tax rates and pay for that by closing loopholes and limiting deductions — though they’ve yet to say which loopholes and deductions. It would also scrap Obamacare, turn Medicare into a voucher program, block grant Medicaid and slash spending for everything but defense, which would increase.

Senate Democrats’ plan would trim deficits by $1.85 trillion in 10 years. It would cut $975 billion in spending — including $275 billion from Medicare and Medicaid — raise $975 billion in new revenue by closing tax loopholes and limiting deductions, and provide $100 billion in new spending to repair and rebuild infrastructure.

But Republicans still insist there must be no new revenue. And Democrats still have no real plan to control Medicare and Medicaid spending, the main drivers of future deficits.

Obama reiterated yesterday that to save money he’s open to means testing Medicare and changing the way Social Security cost of living adjustments are computed. He said he's willing to take on Democrats on those reforms and asked GOP lawmakers to challenge their own party’s base over the need to raise more tax revenue. Republicans should provide specifics on what loopholes and deductions they’re willing to target.

That’s what it will take to make the relationship work. 

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