GOP cooperation sought on budget

‘My way or highway’ approach won’t work, White House says


WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday warned Republicans that a “my way or the highway” approach would spell the GOP’s defeat in upcoming budget negotiations and told Democrats that they, too, will have to bend on President Obama’s spending plan that is scheduled to be released this week.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the White House is willing to work with rank-and-file Republicans to come up with an outline that both jump-starts the economy and reduces the nation’s red ink.

At least one key Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, on Sunday became the first prominent GOP official to offer even lukewarm public praise of the budget proposal.

Mr. Graham said the Obama plan overall is bad for the economy, but “there are nuggets of his budget that I think are optimistic,” and that could set the stage for a broad bargain to put the nation’s finances on a stronger footing.

Such a large-scale deal has proved elusive for Mr. Obama — first with House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and now with Senate Republicans.

Mr. Pfeiffer told Republicans that stubbornness among their party’s leadership would only yield public embarrassment akin to what the GOP faced last year when voters rejected Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s economic proposals and gave Mr. Obama a second term.

“Right now, the approach of many Republicans — particularly the leadership in the House — is my way or the highway. Their view is the only acceptable plan is to try to cut away prosperity, turn Medicare into a voucher program, and essentially enact the Romney economic plan,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “The American people rejected that, and Republicans shouldn’t be doubling down on it.”

He also warned Democrats who are wary of some of the President’s cuts that they will have to sacrifice.

“Look, this is compromise,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “And compromise means there are going to be some folks on both sides who are not happy.”

Mr. Obama is expected to formally release his budget outline Wednesday morning.

Its delay from February, then to March, and now to April has left lawmakers in the Republican-led House and Democrat-controlled Senate to write their own budget proposals and move ahead without a concrete plan from Mr. Obama’s economic team.

The President’s budget was seen more as a starting point for negotiations than a final proposal.

Time and again, the White House has tried to negotiate an overarching compromise that brings down spending while protecting social safety nets for those who need them most.

Each time, talks have fallen apart amid revolt among the strongest partisans in Democrats’ and Republicans’ caucuses.

Mr. Graham, a conservative who has deviated from party positions in the past, has said he would consider raising up to $600 billion in new tax revenue if Democrats accept significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

The White House on Friday said the President would propose a budget that would offer cuts to programs such as Social Security and Medicare in exchange for increased tax revenues and a commitment to spend money on education and infrastructure repair.

Mr. Graham said the President’s offer contained approaches to cutting spending that he supports. One is the proposal to index cost-of-living increases for government program benefits to a less-generous measure of inflation.

“His overall budget’s not going to make it, but he has sort of made a step forward in the entitlement-reform process that would allow a guy like me to begin to talk about flattening the tax code and generating more revenue.”

He was speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press program.

Mr. Graham’s reception of the President’s budget proposal is warmer than his fellow Republicans and some of the President’s own allies.

Mr. Boehner said last week the President was ignoring Republicans’ staunch opposition to any tax hikes.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who votes with the Democrats, said he would oppose any efforts to lower payments to Social Security beneficiaries.

In an illustration of the difficulty the President will have retaining support among his fellow party members, a House Democrat said that Mr. Obama’s plan risks splintering the party’s loyalties.

“We need to be solid. We need to indicate to the administration this is a non-starter in the House,” Rep. Raul Grijalva of New Mexico said on MSNBC.

On Wednesday night, the President is scheduled to meet with Republican senators for dinner.

“What we’re looking for is what the President calls a caucus of common sense, folks who are willing to compromise and who understand that in divided government, both sides aren’t going to get everything they want,” Mr. Pfeiffer told Fox News Sunday.

In a separate interview, Mr. Pfeiffer told ABC’s This Week that the White House sees an opening to work with rank-and-file lawmakers on a deal, perhaps bypassing the party’s leadership.

“Is it going to be easy? Absolutely not. But there is a possibility,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.