Feb. 15: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., right, looks on as the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. questions Budget Director Jack Lew on Capitol Hill in Washington during the committee's hearing on President Barack Obama's fiscal 2012 federal budget. (AP)
President Obama urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Tuesday to "give a little bit," as they begin to debate his $3.7 trillion budget proposal for 2012.
But Republicans fired back that the federal government has been giving for the past two years and that Obama still hasn't given them enough to work with in terms of spending cuts. Though the administration says the plan will save more than $1 trillion over the next decade, the GOP says the president is not taking any serious steps to address entitlement reform, is not cutting enough in the way of discretionary spending and as a result will not reverse the rising debt anytime soon.
"I would best sum it up as a sort of lack of seriousness," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday afternoon, after Obama conducted his first solo press conference of the year.
"It was a very unserious response to a very serious situation," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
Republicans, who are trying to cut billions out of this year's budget while girding for a battle over next year's budget, say discretionary spending rose by 24 percent over the past two years and that merely freezing funding -- as Obama proposes, along with targeted cuts -- is not good enough.
"He just punted," House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday.
Democrats say that's not the case. They have lined up to defend the president in the day since his budget was delivered to Capitol Hill. Obama noted Tuesday that his plan cuts funding for everything from low-income community action programs to conservation programs -- initiatives that he said he wouldn't be cutting "if we were in a better fiscal situation."
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Republicans are taking the wrong approach by trying to "slash" government -- as opposed to using a "scalpel," as Obama suggested Tuesday.
"He didn't just talk about tough choices, he made them. I don't agree with all of those choices. But I cannot deny that by making the difficult decisions, he showed leadership," Reid said.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., even suggested that Obama might be willing to meet some of the GOP's spending requests.
"That's what happened in December," Hoyer said, citing Obama's decision to accept the Republican position on renewing across-the-board tax cuts for all Americans.
But Obama is also feeling pressure early on from his base. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee slammed the president Tuesday for so much as mentioning Social Security in the context of entitlement reform. The group said any tinkering with Social Security amounts to a "broken promise" to those workers who paid into the system.
Obama, however, did not make any specific recommendations Tuesday for stabilizing Social Security -- which has not been a deficit driver in the past but is now running in the red and is projected to do so indefinitely. Rather, the president said "modest adjustments" should be made to the retirement program, while suggesting bigger changes would be needed to fix Medicare and Medicaid.
The president said the report from his fiscal commission, though it stalled in committee last year, would provide a "framework" for that discussion.
Republicans suggested now is the time for action, not discussion. Despite the deficit savings achieved by the president's plan, it still comes with $7.2 trillion in cumulative deficits over the next decade.
McConnell said the GOP is waiting for "presidential leadership" on entitlement reform.
A memo from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's office said that while Republicans will address entitlements, "President Obama boldly declared he wanted to have an adult conversation about a conversation to set up a framework for a conversation about a conversation on entitlements."
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Obama's not making enough of a dent.
"He's been eloquent about the problem, and yet his solutions don't address the problem," Portman said.