Obama, Ryan Express Doubts Over Deficit-Reduction Pact

Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican budget chairman Representative Paul Ryan tamped down expectations for any kind of deficit-reducing budget deal this year, even as Obama prepared for a meeting on Wednesday with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

* President continues wooing members of Congress

* Vastly different Republican, Democratic budgets advance

Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican budget chairman Representative Paul Ryan tamped down expectations for any kind of deficit-reducing budget deal this year, even as Obama prepared for a meeting on Wednesday with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

In an interview aired on ABC television, Obama said: "Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide."

Ryan expressed similar doubts. The House Budget Committee chairman, who was asked in an MSNBC "Morning Joe" interview about prospects for a compromise. "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know," said the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate.

The comments came as Obama prepared to discuss budget concerns with members of Congress for the second consecutive day, this time with House of Representatives Republicans as part of his so-called charm offensive with members of Congress, which has included rare visits to the Capitol Hill as well as dinners and lunches with Republicans.

In recent years, agreement on a budget resolution - which is supposed to broadly set out the government's spending priorities - has been the exception rather than the rule.

In place of the old budget process, the country has been put through a series of white-knuckled deadlines like the "fiscal cliff" standoff in January and makeshift arrangements such as the across-the-board budget cuts, also known as the "sequestration," that took effect on March 1.

But Obama and some Republicans had raised hopes that this year might be different, with Obama's new outreach to Capitol Hill raising expectations.

Ryan, in his interview, displayed some mistrust of Obama's latest moves to woo members of Congress into a budget deal. "Was the so-called charm offensive a temporary, you know, poll-driven political calculation? Or was it a sincere conversion to try and bring people together and start communicating?"

At the heart of the debate are Democratic demands that additional deficit reduction include new tax revenues on the wealthy, an idea Republicans reject. Instead, they want to squeeze significant savings from an array of domestic programs.

Underscoring the partisan differences, committees in the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate began considering vastly different budget bills on Wednesday.

Ryan's House Budget Committee planned a full day, possibly extending into the night, of debate on his fiscal 2014 blueprint that aims to get the federal budget into balance by 2023.

With its deep savings on domestic programs, including ones that help the elderly get medical care, coupled with significant tax cuts for the wealthy, this Republican budget has drawn harsh criticism from Democrats.


In opening remarks at his committee's work session, Ryan stressed the urgency in getting control of a national debt that is rising rapidly and now stands at $16.7 trillion. "The debt will weigh down our country and our economy like an anchor," he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray was set to begin debating her Democratic counterpart to the Ryan budget. Republicans already have mocked it as little more than a tax-heavy, spending-heavy plan that ignores the real U.S. fiscal problem: rapidly growing "entitlement" programs in an aging population.

Those programs include Medicare for the elderly and disabled, Medicaid for the poor, and Social Security payments to retirees.

While Obama and Ryan each expressed doubts about coming together on a multi-trillion-dollar deficit-reduction deal this year, they both have agreed on a process to attempt to achieve something ambitious.

In a meeting with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, Obama said that the Ryan and Murray budgets should proceed in their respective chambers so that a House-Senate compromise could then be negotiated, according to senators who attended that meeting.

Ryan, in his MSNBC interview, also spoke of finding a "sweet spot" somewhere between the two, competing budget outlines.

"There are things that we believe can get us a step in the right direction, get a down payment on the debt without offending either party's philosophy," the Wisconsin lawmaker said without elaborating.

In the meantime, Ryan intends to advance a budget through the House that taunts Democrats with its plan to repeal Obama's landmark healthcare law enacted in 2010. And Murray intends to advance a budget through the Senate that taunts Republicans with nearly $1 trillion in new taxes on the rich.

Leaders will try to pass the respective bills in the full House and full Senate next week, setting the stage for a possible House-Senate negotiating committee next month.

As Democrats and Republicans jousted over their 10-year fiscal plans, the Senate on Wednesday struggled with a much shorter-term problem: legislation to simply keep the government operating for the next six months and thus avoid agency shutdowns on March 27 when current funding runs out.

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