In the House, Budget Committee Republicans approved a 2014 budget plan late Wednesday with an entirely opposite approach. It whacks spending by $4.6 trillion over the coming decade and promises sweeping cuts to Medicaid and domestic agencies while setting a path to balancing the government's books within 10 years. The party-line vote sent the measure to the full House for a vote next week.
The partisan activity in the rival Budget panels contrasts with Obama's charm offensive, which is aimed at exploring the possibility of bipartisan agreement over politically challenging budget issues that have long gridlocked Washington.
Obama is signaling a willingness to adopt some modest steps on Medicare and Social Security, even as many of his Democratic allies wince at the idea. He told House Democrats that he could support a less generous inflation adjustment for Social Security but only as part of a larger budget bargain that includes new taxes.
He told senators to expect a decision on the keystone pipeline sometime this year though he didn't signal whether to expect his administration to approve it, said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
"This will be hard, and it will have to go against his own party to some extent as will some of us on the other side, but that we need to fix the debt for the country," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "He was candid and open and direct and he didn't sugar coat it. He recognizes that we have some pretty big differences and we ought to keep expectations under control, but he said he believes — and I think all of us believe — this is the way we should be doing business together."
Separately, debate continues in the Senate on a bipartisan spending measure wrapping up unfinished work on this year's budget — the annual spending bills funding the day-to-day operating budgets of federal agencies. Leaders hope to finish that measure, which is required to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the month, on Thursday. Hopes were fading, however.