President Barack Obama speaks on the upcoming automatic government spending cuts, dubbed sequestration, after a meeting with Congressional leaders at the White House on March 1, 2013 in Washington, D.C. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is talking to Democrats and Republicans about cutting Medicare and Social Security entitlements, a White House official said.
"He's reaching out to Democrats who understand we have to make serious progress on long-term entitlement reform, and Republicans who realize that if we had that type of entitlement reform, they'd be willing to have tax reform that raises revenues to lower the deficit," Gene Sperling, director of Obama's National Economic Council, told CNN's "State of the Union."
During his introduction of three Cabinet nominees Monday, Obama touched on the automatic $85 billion, across-the-board cuts in federal spending, known as the sequester, saying Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, and acting OMB chief Jeff Zients "will do everything in their power to blunt the impact of these cuts on businesses and middle-class families.
But many people eventually "are going to feel some pain," the president said.
"That's why we've got to keep on working to reduce our deficit in a balanced way, an approach that's supported by the majority of the American people, including a majority of Republicans."
When asked if that means Obama was talking to top congressional leaders, Sperling said, "Well, he just had the leadership in on Friday," referring to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Sperling said Obama followed up Friday's meeting by making phone calls Saturday to rank-and-file senators in both parties who had expressed interest in "the type of grand bargain that Bowles-Simpson have called for, that most budget experts called for, that recognize it's not cutting defense and domestic spending like education and research we need."
Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to Democratic President Bill Clinton, and Alan Simpson, a former GOP senator from Wyoming, were co-chairmen of a White House bipartisan deficit-reduction panel created in February 2010 to find ways of reducing the mounting federal debt.
The panel's package of tax and spending changes fell three votes short of the required 14-vote support from its 18 members that would have sent the proposal to Congress for a vote.
Sperling didn't say who Obama spoke with Saturday.
Boehner said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that when he met with Obama Friday they discussed the need to avert an end-of-the-month budget showdown that could result in a government shutdown.
Obama "agreed that we should not have any talk of a government shutdown," Boehner said. "So I'm hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to work through this."
The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a spending measure that would keep the government running after its current stop-gap funding mechanism elapses March 27.
The House measure would provide funding through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, and give new flexibility to the Pentagon to manage $40 billion in cuts it took Friday in the sequester.
The sequester is the Washington term for $85 billion in across-the-board federal domestic and military spending cuts triggered when the White House and congressional Republicans failed to reach a compromise on an alternative.
The cuts were included in the 2011 deal to raise the federal debt limit. They are projected to run through Sept. 30 and are the first of a decade-long plan to cut spending $1.2 trillion for nearly every federal program, except for military personnel and entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
This year's cuts represent 2.4 percent of the federal government's annual $3.55 trillion budget.
Sperling, who also appeared on "Meet the Press," said Obama would work to undo the sequester cuts as part of a broader discussion about deficit reduction.
"We will still be committed to trying to find Republicans and Democrats that will work on a bipartisan compromise to get rid of the sequester," Sperling said.
"That's why the president was calling the leadership on Friday, that's why he spent his Saturday afternoon calling Republican and Democratic senators who he thinks could be part of a caucus of common sense to help move our country forward," he said.