WASHINGTON — One budget deal down, President Barack Obama and Congress began to pivot Sunday from the painful standoff over this year’s spending to a pair of defining debates over the nation’s borrowing limit and the election-year budget.
Much will be revealed at midweek, when the House and Senate are expected to vote on a budget for the remainder of this fiscal year and Obama reveals his plan to reduce the deficit, in part by scaling back programs for seniors and the poor. Across the dial on Sunday, messengers from both parties framed the series of spending fights as debates over cuts — a thematic victory for House Republicans swept to power by a populist mandate for smaller, more austere government.
“We’ve had to bring this president kicking and screaming to the table to cut spending,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on “Fox News Sunday.”
Presidential adviser David Plouffe said Obama has long been committed to finding ways for the nation to spend within its means. He confirmed that the president would unveil more specifics for deficit reduction with a speech Wednesday that would reveal plans to reduce the government’s chief health programs for seniors and the poor.
“You’re going to have to look at Medicare and Medicaid and see what kind of savings you can get,” Obama adviser Plouffe said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The presidential speech on Wednesday is part of official Washington’s shift from the standoff over spending through September to next year’s budget and beyond. Alone and together, the prospects of raising the debt ceiling and passing a 2012 spending plan are politically perilous, a knot that lawmakers will spend the coming months trying to unravel. That means competing plans to shore up the nation’s long-term fiscal health in a debate many predict will make Friday’s nail-biter look minor.
For all the forward focus Sunday, congressional officials still were analyzing Friday’s 348-70 vote to fund the government through the week. Operating under it, aides were putting to paper the longer-term bipartisan accord to fund the government through September. It wasn’t clear that the vote would remain the same on the spending bill for the next six months.
The late hour of Friday’s handshake left lawmakers little time to react. House members of both parties who voted for the funding through the week could not say on Sunday that they’d vote for the plan to fund the government through September.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who voted yes Friday to extend funding this week while the final compromise was written, said he nonetheless was undecided on whether he’d vote for the final deal. On ABC’s “This Week,” he said he didn’t think the six-month compromise would pass.
On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., also a yes vote on Friday, would not commit to voting for the six-month deal either.
Pence praised House Speaker John Boehner for fighting “the good fight.”
“It sounds like John Boehner got a good deal, probably not good enough for me to support it, but a good deal nonetheless,” Pence said on ABC.
Friday’s tally also offered a look at Republicans likely to be the staunchest opponents of any compromises on spending and policy.
Twenty-eight of the no votes were cast by Republicans. Sixteen of those are members of the 87-member freshman class. Also voting no: tea party star and possible presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
“This short-term was just ‘same ol’, same ol’’ for Washington,” one newcomer who voted no, Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, wrote on his Facebook page.
The $38.5 billion in cuts, Huelskamp wrote, “barely make a dent” in years of trillion-dollar deficits and the nation’s $14 trillion debt. Additionally, the measure lacked the policy riders he sought, such as one to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, though by law no federal money goes to its abortion services.
All told, Huelskamp wrote, the measure “ignores the fundamental reasons I and my fellow freshmen members of Congress were sent to Washington in November of last year.”
Plouffe said the president understands the mandate to cut spending dramatically. On talk show after talk show, he pointed to December’s bipartisan deal on tax cuts with Friday night’s agreement on this year’s budget as evidence that both parties can govern together when they want to.
“Compromise is not a dirty word,” Plouffe said on ABC.
The president, Plouffe said, would address ways to reduce the deficit and the long-term, $14 trillion debt. He gave few specifics, but he said the president believes taxes should go up on higher-income Americans and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid will be necessary.
Obama’s speech will come as the debate shifts to the far more delicate ground of the government budget for next year — when the president and most of Congress are up for re-election.
Republicans said Friday night’s deal in no way means they’re ready to compromise on the fiscal debates ahead, starting with the House Republicans’ $3.5 trillion spending plan for next year.
The GOP blueprint, unveiled last week by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would slash federal spending by $5 trillion or more over the coming decade and repeal Obama’s signature health care law. It would leave Social Security untouched but shift more of the risk from rising medical costs from the government to Medicare beneficiaries. It also calls for sharp cuts to Medicaid health care for the poor and disabled and to food aid for the poor.