White House Budget Director: "This Budget Has a Lot of Pain"

White House budget director Jacob Lew.

In a series of interviews on Monday morning, White House budget director Jacob Lew went on the defensive for President Obama's recently-released budget plan, conceding that "this budget has a lot of pain" but emphasizing that, ultimately, it "does the job: it cuts the deficit in half by the end of the president's first term."

"We've made tough tradeoffs," he said in an interview with CNN's American Morning. "In a year when I think we all agree that we need to cut spending and live within our means, there are going to be tough, tough choices."

The $3.73 trillion budget proposal, which projects a deficit of $1.65 trillion for 2011, pledges $1.1 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade. Among the reductions is a five-year discretionary spending freeze purported to cut $400 billion.

"This is a tough budget," Lew told CNN's Kiran Chetry. "It's a budget that takes $400 billion out of discretionary spending by freezing it over the next five years. And that means, making the kinds of tradeoffs where it's no longer just cutting things that we would call waste or fraud or abuse, but it means taking programs that in other circumstances we would not cut and making reductions."

Republicans have been quick to criticize the plan.

"Americans don't want a spending freeze at unsustainable levels," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Washington Post. "They want cuts, dramatic cuts. And I hope the president will work with us on achieving them soon."

Meanwhile, some Democrats have argued that the proposed reductions cut into important government-funded programs, like Pell Grants for college students and other higher education programs - which will see a $100 billion reduction in the new budget - and a program which provides low-income heating and cooling aid, which is being cut by $2.5 billion.

"I've always supported serious efforts to restore fiscal sanity, but in the middle of a brutal, even historic, New England winter, home heating assistance is more critical than ever to the health and welfare of millions of Americans, especially senior citizens," Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry wrote in a statement last week, when rumors surfaced that funding for that program would be cut.

On CNN, Lew said the heating and cooling aid had been reduced to reflect a return to 2008-level energy prices, but admitted that "it's a tough decision and we didn't make it lightly."

"This budget has a lot of pain," he said, in an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America." But, he said, "it does the job, it cuts the deficit in half by the end of the president's first term."

"We have a responsible plan out there that cuts spending but also reduces the deficit. I think you have to look at both of those," Lew continued. "I wish I could stand here and say that we were on the edge of a surplus. It's going to take us a lot of hard work just to take us to the point where we're not adding to the debt."