Obama Tacks Center, but Debt Reduction Remains Elusive

President Obama's State of the Union address is expected to emphasize jobs, growth and debt  reduction but is unlikely to embrace the recommendations of a bipartisan majority of the deficit reduction commission he created to find ways to balance the budget, a senior aide to the president told Fox News.

The panel, which spent a half-million dollars developing a set of debt reduction recommendations that were ultimately rejected in December by a supermajority of the 18-member group, proposed slashing deficits over the next 10 years by cutting domestic and military spending, changing Social Security and Medicare payouts and overhauling the tax code.

While the proposal was supported by several members of both sides of the aisle, it achieved only 11 of the 14 votes needed to move it to Congress for action.

Still, many of the ideas remain very much on the table.

"I don't think we ought to start out with the notion that -- that a whole lot of areas in the budget are exempt from reducing spending, which is what we really need to do and do it quickly," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told "Fox News Sunday."

McConnell, who with House Speaker John Boehner selected budget-busting Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to deliver the Republican address following the president's on Tuesday night, said not just short-term annual debt, but "long-term unfunded liabilities to the entitlement programs," need to be considered in any initiatives submitted by Obama.

"We'll look to the president to see what we wants to do about our long-term problem as well as the annual deficits we've been running, which are completely unsustainable," McConnell said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was on the panel and supported the recommendations, suggested Congress "dust off that deficit commission report."

"Take a look at some of the things we address there: First $3 in spending cuts for every dollar in new revenue, so if we're serious when it came to cutting spending, we must do that. Secondly, when it came to revenue, take a look at tax code. ... In all the time I've been in Washington, we've never put the tax code on the table and said does it still make sense, all the deductions, all the credits, all the tax earmarks? Do they make sense? They cost us $1.1 trillion each year," Durbin said on "Fox News Sunday."

The president is supposed to make a tactical shift to the center during his State of the Union address, an aide to the president said. He will focus on five central themes: innovation, education, infrastructure, deficit reduction and reforming government, and he will touch on issues like overhauling the tax code.

But Obama will not propose specifics, according to the aide. The president's annual budget is expected the week of Feb. 14.

In a video released Saturday to supporters, the president previewed his address by saying he is focusing on "out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building the rest of the world." He added that now that the economy is showing signs of recovery, the moment has come to focus on the future.

McConnell said he's glad to see the president pivoting toward the middle, but now is a time for Republicans to "trust and verify."  McConnell also warned Democrats not try to disguise new forms of spending as "investment."

"Any time they want to spend they call it 'investment,' so I think you'll hear the president discuss a lot of investment," he said.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who announced last week that he will retire in 2012 in part because he wants to spend the next two years thinking about debt reduction and not re-election, said he wants the president to focus on new jobs, the "debt threat" and reducing dependence on foreign energy, which is integrally tied to the other two issues.

Conrad, who also was a yes-voting member of the debt panel, told ABC's "This Week" that the commission's plan to reduce the debt by $4 trillion over the next 10 years, resonates with the American people.

"I think that's what's required, a balanced plan that does, yes, have spending cuts. We had $1.5 trillion of spending cuts in the fiscal commission's plan, but you're going to also have to deal with the entitlements, Social Security and Medicare," Conrad said, acknowledging that Democrats lost big numbers in Congress because of too much spending.

"What I hear all across my state are three words: Enough is enough. When you put together TARP, of course, which was done under the Bush administration, but it sort of all runs into the same reaction by people, and you add stimulus, and the auto bailout, and the health care bill, it just struck people that there was too much coming from the federal government," he said.