WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told Congress on Thursday that the Obama administration is optimistic about a budget deal, but he urged lawmakers to consider concessions already made in President Barack Obama’s $3.8 trillion spending request.
In testimony before House and Senate committees, Lew said that the budget request put forward Wednesday represents a balanced approach. It claims $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, although $1.2 trillion of that would be devoted to reversing automatic cuts that were part of a 2011 budget deal.
The budget the administration unveiled on Wednesday contains spending curbs on Social Security and Medicare and new taxes totaling close to $1 trillion over 10 years.
“These proposals are based on the conviction that an agreement is within our reach,” Lew said during a morning hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, his first congressional appearance since becoming Treasury secretary in February. Lew testified in the afternoon to the Senate Finance Committee.
At both hearings, Republicans criticized the administration’s budget, saying it did not seek enough cost savings from Social Security and Medicare.
“The president’s program takes only baby steps in reforming our entitlement programs,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Lew. “Claiming that this budget is an act of courage on entitlements … is a claim. It is not reality.”
Democrats also voiced objections to the budget’s proposed changes to Social Security. However, their complaints focused on a plan that would tie the annual cost-of-living adjustments to a different measure of inflation. They said that would limit benefits.
The Obama budget achieves $130 billion in savings by using this “chained CPI” measure of inflation to making cost of living adjustments for Social Security and other government benefit programs.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he would have preferred that the administration achieve savings by raising Social Security payroll taxes on upper-income workers.