WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is urging lawmakers to find common ground on a budget deal to avert a government shutdown and says he's willing to agree to steeper cuts to get there.
The president issued a call for compromise Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address but without offering any specifics on how to bridge the $50 billion gulf that divides the White House and Democratic budget proposal from the much steeper cuts offered by Republicans.
The competing plans are headed for test votes in the Senate in the coming week that neither is expected to survive but that will set the stage for further negotiations. The government is running on a stopgap spending bill that expires March 18, so the parties have until then to come up with a plan to pay for the remainder of the fiscal year through Sept. 30.
"We need to come together, Democrats and Republicans, around a long-term budget that sacrifices wasteful spending without sacrificing the job-creating investments in our future. My administration has already put forward specific cuts that meet congressional Republicans halfway. And I'm prepared to do more," said Obama, although the claim that Democrats are meeting Republicans halfway only stands up under the Democratic explanation of the intricate numbers game being played on Capitol Hill.
"But we'll only finish the job together -- by sitting at the same table, working out our differences and finding common ground," the president said.
Facing a federal deficit of $1.6 trillion, Republican leaders are under pressure from tea partiers to stick to a deep menu of $61 billion in spending cuts for the remainder of this year that's been passed by the GOP-controlled House. But Obama has threatened to veto that plan, and a Democratic counteroffer of $6.5 billion in cuts -- on top of $4 billion already signed into law -- restores money the House GOP cuts from education, health and other programs.
Republicans used their weekly address to reject Obama's approach on the budget.
"You may have heard President Obama say that we need to make sure 'we're living within our means,"' freshman Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., said in the address. "He's right about that. Unfortunately, his budget doesn't match his words.
"It continues out-of-control spending, it adds to our $14 trillion debt and it adds to the uncertainty that makes it harder to create jobs. Maintaining the status quo -- and refusing to offer a credible plan to cut spending -- is just unacceptable and inexcusable," the lawmaker said.
"The American people want us to keep the government running while cutting its cost," Black said.