President Barack Obama said the national debt, now at nearly $16.7 trillion with over $123 trillion in unfunded liabilities, is not a crisis and he will not propose to balance the budget, in an interview for ABC News.
"We don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt. In fact, for the next 10 years, it's gonna be in a sustainable place," Obama told George Stephanopoulos in a taped interview that will air Wednesday night on ABC's "Nightline."
Obama's budget is already a month and a half late. The president is supposed to send a budget proposal to Congress by the first Monday in February, but the White House says it will not be available until April 8.
Under normal budget procedure, the president's budget becomes the starting point for a federal budget, which is supposed to be passed by Congress. Now, though, both the House and Senate will pass their own budgets before the president has formulated his own budget, the first time in 92 years that has happened. This year will also be the first time since 2009 that the Senate will pass a budget.
The House Budget Committee passed a budget last week that will be voted on in the full House. That budget would balance federal spending with revenue in 10 years. Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) challenged Obama to also come up with a budget that achieves balance.
When Stephanopoulos asked Obama if he would do that, Obama answered, "no," because balancing the budget would require reforming Medicare and Medicaid and increasing taxes.
"We're not gonna balance the budget in 10 years," Obama said, "because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means you have to voucherize Medicare; you have to slash deeply into programs like Medicaid; you've essentially got to either tax middle-class families a lot higher than you currently are; or you can't lower rates the way he's promised."
Obama is meeting with the entire House Republican caucus Wednesday. The meeting is ostensibly to discuss how the two sides can work together though Obama does not agree with Republicans that there is a debt crisis. He has proposed increasing revenue by getting rid of some tax preferences, but Republicans insist that tax reform only be used to lower tax rates for all.
The meeting is the latest in a string of meetings with members of Congress. After much criticism from the press for a lack of engagement with Congress, Obama has met with a variety of Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate this week to discuss forging a "grand bargain" deficit reduction plan. Some pundits are wondering, though, whether his effort is sincere or aimed at aiding his sagging poll numbers.
"Obama's sudden burst of public outreach coincides with a drop in his approval ratings, noted first by Democratic pollsters advising the White House last week and now surfacing in a spate of public polls. This raises the uncomfortable question: Is this schmooze-a-thon a legitimate act of humility and leadership or a cynical public display?" Ron Fournier asked Tuesday for National Journal.
Fournier spoke to a couple of senior White House officials, on condition of anonymity, who suggested that "cynical public display" was the answer.
"This is a joke. We're wasting the president's time and ours. I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we're doing it for you," one White House official told him.
When Stephanopoulos asked about the dinners, Obama said he is trying to "create an atmosphere where Democrats and Republicans can go ahead" and "get something done."
"But ultimately," he concluded, "it may be that the differences are just too wide. It may be that ideologically, if their position is, 'we can't do any revenue,' or, 'we can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,' if that's the position, then we're probably not gonna be able to get a deal."