The Republican leaders of the House and Senate suggested Sunday the only way to reduce the U.S. deficit, including federal entitlement programs, is through a bipartisan effort that includes Republicans working directly with President Obama.
"We have to go together," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "We're happy to sit down and talk about entitlement reform."
Though Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Democrats and Republicans must work together, he challenged Mr. Obama to take charge.
"I think the president needs to be more bold," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "The president ought to step up to the plate with us and tackle it together."
Mr. McConnell focused mostly on entitlement revisions, saying the nation's Social Security system is "in trouble" and citing a Congressional Budget Office report last week stating the system continues to pay out more than it collects in payroll taxes.
He also said the best opportunity for bipartisanship is to reduce the nation's long- and short-term debt by working on the federal debt ceiling and the continuing resolution that sets federal spending.
Mr. McConnell declined to comment on the compromise scenario posed by show moderator David Gregory that Republicans agree to some additional spending, as suggested in Mr. Obama's State of the Union speech last week, in exchange for entitlement cuts.
However, he pointed out that some of the country's biggest financial issue were resolved through bipartisan efforts, including President Reagan, a Republican, and Democratic House Majority Leader Tip O'Neill fixing Social Security in 1983, then Mr. Reagan and the Democrat-controlled House's tax-reform efforts three years later.
House Speaker John A. Boehner also called Sunday for a bipartisan effort. But he appeared less concerned about Mr. Obama than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other Senate Democrats thinking entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security are not a problem.
"If we cannot get Senate Democrats and their leader to recognize that we've got real problems, I don't know how we begin to move down this path of having this adult conversation that I'd like to have, and I, frankly, like the president would like to have," said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
While Mr. McConnell said Mr. Obama is "unwilling" to address the country's long-term, unfunded liabilities, Mr. Boehner repeatedly said he welcomes all voices within the GOP-controlled House, and that he will not stand in the way of the Tea Party Caucus and others presenting plans to make deep cuts to the federal budget.
"I'm going to allow the House to work its way," he said several times on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm the speaker of the House, the whole House."
He said the Tea Party Caucus, including its vision to cut federal spending beyond the 2008 levels as desired by House GOP leaders, is "absolutely not" a problem. Mr. Boehner said the House Appropriations Committee is expected to complete its plan for specific cuts within roughly the next 10 days and that the plan should reach the House floor by the week of Feb. 14.
He expressed confidence that Democrats and Republicans in Congress will reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling because the nation defaulting on its debt would be a "financial disaster."
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