Friday March 15, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The president was "relaxed and comfortable" Thursday during a meeting aimed at reassuring nervous House Democrats that entitlement programs won’t be slashed just to get Republicans to negotiate a federal budget, according to Vermont Rep. Peter Welch.

President Barack Obama’s meeting Thursday with House Democrats followed a similar visit Wednesday with Republican House members as well as meetings with the Democratic and GOP caucuses in the Senate. With competing budgets emerging from the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate, Obama is looking to keep fellow Democrats on board while offering enough to encourage GOP leaders to negotiate.

"He’s going to hang in there"

"There was a lot of support for the president and assurance from the president that he’s going to hang in there on a budget that’s about building the economy and building the middle class," Welch said of House Democratic caucus meeting.

Obama is floating proposals to reform Social Security and Medicare as a way to entice Republicans to accept new revenues. Such a so-called grand bargain has support from Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. However, rank-and-file Democrats, including Welch, have expressed concern over cuts to entitlement programs.

Obama, Welch said, promised "he’s not going to chase a bad deal.


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"What the president said is that any kind of balanced deal that he’d be inclined to support would have to include revenues, and significant revenue," Welch said.

Obama made the case to his fellow Democrats that they must be willing to discuss changes to Social Security and Medicare if Republicans are going to discuss raising additional revenue. However, the president said he will not make concessions before negotiations begin, Welch said.

"He’s not making concessions to get to get them to the table. He said he’s not going to chase a deal."

Plenty of Democrats remain concerned over a potential switch to the chained CPI for determining cost-of-living increases in Social Security. The change would result is a smaller annual increase in benefits, but could help encourage Republicans to agree to new tax revenue.

The president made clear that he will not agree to Republican demands just to cut a deal, however.

"Doing something like just cutting the social safety net to get a deal is not something that he’s interested in. I think that was reassuring to the Democrats," Welch said. "I think people were reassured that he clearly has a strong commitment to continue with Social Security and Medicare."

Welch said any budget plan he supports must have a balanced approach to deficit reduction and include cuts to defense spending. "My hope Š is that we will get a big deal and a balanced deal," he said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami