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Deficit reduction: Is Obama's $4 trillion goal big enough?

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To the right of Obama, many Republicans would like to see a balanced-budget amendment to the US Constitution, including a cap on federal spending as a share of gross domestic product (GDP). Such an amendment might allow a bigger reduction in deficits.

To Obama's left, some Democrats are outlining budget visions that don't make such steep cuts.

For example, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland this week introduced a budget proposal for House Democrats. The plan seeks to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion more than the budget Obama introduced earlier this year, but significantly less than the plan announced Wednesday.

Members of both parties generally agree that the public debt is a serious danger to the economy, and that policymakers can't afford to delay much longer in crafting long-term plans to hold the debt in check.

"We have to, for our own creditworthiness, ... demonstrate that Washington can make decisions" on tough fiscal issues, White House budget director Jack Lew said in a briefing Thursday.

How does the Obama plan compare with the Republican budget proposal put forward last week by Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee?

Both would reduce the level of deficits sharply compared with a status quo option in which tax rates and spending stay essentially unchanged. Both call for having the national debt on the decline – if measured as a share of GDP – by later this decade. Neither calls for balancing the budget or paying down the debt by 2021.

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