President Barack Obama talks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol after meeting with House Republican Conference, on March 13, 2013 in Washington, D.C. UPI/Molly Riley/Pool | License Photo
WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama said his priority was averting an economic slowdown, not balancing the budget in 10 years, House Republicans said after meeting with him.
"Our biggest problems in the next 10 years are not deficits," several Republicans told The New York Times the president said, bluntly rejecting a key GOP idea outlined in the Republican budget proposed this week. The budget plan promises to eliminate the federal deficit in 10 years through steep spending cuts and reforms to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.
"The president tactfully said: 'That's not my priority,'" Rep. Mike D. Rogers, R-Ala., told The Hill, explaining Obama said the Republican focus on debt reduction risked "slowing the recovery down and [hurting] the long-term economic health of the country."
Obama spoke about balancing the budget "in principle," lawmakers said, meaning eliminating all deficits except for payments of interest on the debt.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., told The Hill balancing the budget in principle was like "telling a family that your budget balances without counting the interest on your credit-card debt or your mortgage."
"It matters," Walden said.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., left the hourlong Capitol Hill meeting early, telling the Times: "Well, [Obama] doesn't want to balance the budget in 10 years, and he wants tax increases, and he wants new spending. But other than that, we're close."
Obama acknowledged the gap between the Republican and Democratic budget approaches in an ABC News interview.
"Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide," he said in the interview, which ran Wednesday before he went to the Capitol to meet with the House Republicans.
"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 going to be able to get a deal," Obama said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a Washington Post op-ed piece Thursday outreach to lawmakers was one thing, but "courage, and eventually action," are quite another.
He said they were missing from Obama's approach, and unless he is willing to change, the budget process will become "a political exercise that goes nowhere."
Obama was to return to Capitol Hill Thursday to meet with Senate Republicans and House Democrats.
The meeting with the Senate Republican Conference was to take place at 12:45 p.m., the White House said. The meeting with the House Democratic Caucus was to take place at 2:15 p.m.