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Obama to sidestep Social Security shift

Budget will drop bipartisan offer to slow payments

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s forthcoming budget proposal will not include an offer to slow the growth in Social Security payments, which was a gesture of bipartisanship that had been part of his strategy to reach a “grand bargain” with Republicans to cut the deficit and reduce spending.

White House officials said Thursday that since Republicans in Congress have shown no willingness to meet the president’s offer on entitlements by closing loopholes for corporations and wealthy Americans, the fiscal 2015 budget will not assume a path to an agreement that no longer appears to exist.

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Instead, officials said the president will offer a spending blueprint in the next weeks that represents his vision for how to invest in the programs and services that will increase opportunity for the middle class.

“There was a point in time when there was a little bit more optimism about the willingness of Republicans to budge on closing some tax loopholes,” said Josh Earnest, a White House deputy press secretary. “But over the course of the last year, they’ve refused to do that.”

Republicans seized on the change as evidence that Obama had strayed from any commitment to reduce the nation’s deficit over the next decade.

“This reaffirms what has become all too apparent: The president has no interest in doing anything, even modest, to address our looming debt crisis,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.

But Democrats who had opposed the president’s previous willingness to compromise on the cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security payments hailed the decision.

“Middle-class Americans need retirement security they can depend on, and that starts with keeping Social Security’s promises,” said Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

White House officials said the president remained open to the idea of slowing the growth of the Social Security payments if Republicans change their minds.

The budget, due out at the beginning of March, will abide by the overall spending guidelines agreed to by Republicans and Democrats late last year. But included within those overall spending limits will be a $56 billion proposal to increase spending on some of Obama’s key initiatives, officials said.

Earnest said those programs will include spending on manufacturing “hubs” that the president has promoted over the last year; additional government programs to help people develop skills for a changing economy; and financing for early childhood education programs.

Earnest said the spending for the $56 billion initiative will be offset by revenue increases and cuts in other parts of the budget.

“This initiative that the president will propose will be fully paid for,” Earnest said.

Buck criticized the proposal as more of the same from the president.

“The one and only idea the president has to offer is even more job-destroying tax hikes, and that nonstarter won’t do anything to save the entitlement programs that are critical to so many Americans,” he said. “With three years left in office, it seems the president is already throwing in the towel.”

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