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President still pushing to 'go big' on debt deal

By Jessica Yellin, CNN Chief White House Correspondent, and, Kevin Bohn, CNN Senior Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama says "we have the opportunity to do something big and meaningful"
  • He meets with Democrats to discuss their priorities
  • On entitlements: "we are going to have to make some modest changes," he says

Washington (CNN) -- Facing resistance to the outlines of a deal from his own party, President Barack Obama is again making the case to the American people that a package to raise the nation's debt ceiling should include major deficit reduction.

"There will be plenty of haggling over the details of all these plans in the days ahead. But right now, we have the opportunity to do something big and meaningful," the president writes in an op-ed set to appear in Friday's USA Today. "This debate shouldn't just be about avoiding the catastrophe of not paying our bills and defaulting on our debt. That's the least we should do. This debate offers the chance to put our economy on stronger footing, restore a sense of fairness in our country, and secure a better future for our children. I want to seize that opportunity, and ask Americans of both parties and no party to join me in that effort."

The president's efforts come amid discussions among the various parties over a possible deal that would reduce the nation's debt by $3 trillion over a decade with cuts in domestic spending, which would be enacted now, and cuts in entitlement programs as well as tax reform, both of which would happen down the road, Democratic officials familiar with the talks said. The possible deal outlooks $1 trillion in revenue increases.

After news of this potential debt deal outline emerged Thursday, Democrats were upset because they thought their priorities would take too big of a hit. The president met with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Thursday evening for almost two hours hoping to allay their concerns.

Meanwhile the president continues his lobbying campaign to get as large a package of deficit reduction passed as possible as part of any rise in the debt ceiling.

"Neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this debt, but both parties have a responsibility to come together and solve the problem. That's what the American people expect of us. Every day, families are figuring out how to stretch their paychecks a little further, sacrifice what they can't afford, and budget only for what's truly important. It's time for Washington to do the same," he writes in Friday's USA Today.

Obama doesn't specifically mention in the op-ed proposed cuts and changes in entitlement programs, which congressional Democrats want to protect, but does say "the American people deserve the truth from their leaders. And the truth is, you can't get rid of the deficit by simply eliminating waste and fraud, or getting rid of pet projects and foreign aid, like some have suggested. Those things represent only a tiny fraction of what we spend our money on."

In an interview with National Public Radio's "Tell Me More" program Thursday the president did discuss reforms needed in Medicare and Social Security. "Given the rising number of seniors and given the huge escalation in health care costs that if we don't structure those programs so that they are sustainable then it's going to be hard for the next generation to enjoy those same kinds of benefits. And so we are going to have to make some modest changes that retain the integrity of the program but make sure that they're there for years to come," he said. "And that's not even just a deficit problem, that's a -- a step that even if we were all Democrats up here on Capitol Hill we'd have to start making to make sure the integrity of those programs are preserved."

He also again repeats his call for a "balanced" approach requiring wealthy Americans to pay more in taxes as part of any deal.

"What we've got to do is to have an honest conversation with each other about each side taking on some of their sacred cows and, frankly, that's what the American people expect," he told NPR.

Democratic officials say the president still wants the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthiest to expire next year as they are scheduled, but they would not say he's insistent that must happen as part of this deal.

There is still disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on how much future tax reform would bring in, but there is some general consensus on the principles of streamlining and simplifying the tax brackets.

 
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