Mr. Obama's budget "keeps alive the possibility of a bargain, grand or otherwise," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition.
Primarily, Obama proposes changing the way Social Security calculates cost-of-living adjustments – a revision that would save the program money but, critics say, put a greater burden on the poor and elderly. He also suggested some trims to Medicare.
Conservative lawmakers in both chambers offered measured praise for the president Wednesday.
“I am encouraged, however, by the president’s willingness to begin addressing Medicare and Social Security – the primary drivers of our national debt,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R) of Nebraska, a freshman lawmaker. “I hope to work with the president to reform and save these critical programs.”
Even House Speaker John Boehner offered a small nod to the White House, offering that Obama deserves “some credit” for proposing entitlement changes – even if those alterations come up short of what the president offered the Ohio Republican during closed-door negotiations in the past.
Senate Republicans left a dinner last month with the president with a sense that Obama would give more ground on entitlement reform than he had previously let on. A second dinner with some 10 Republican senators Wednesday evening is expected to feature a lengthy discussion of entitlements.
“There’s a lot of talk between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate right now about, 'Could we find that sweet spot and do something significant?' ” says Sen. Tim Kaine (D) of Virginia.
But Obama's recommendations suggest that any deal this summer is likely to be a smaller, “down payment” approach.