White House looking for "petite bargain" on budget

President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Last Updated Mar 4, 2013 2:55 PM EST

With close to $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction already accomplished, the Obama administration says it's no longer aiming for the "grand bargain" over the budget it once sought to reach with Republicans, but something a little smaller.

"It may be the 'petite bargain,' I guess, if you go all French," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters today.

President Obama called Democratic and Republican members of Congress over the weekend, Carney said, to try and find "common ground" in their attempts to reduce the deficit. He's seeking out lawmakers who could agree to a "balanced solution" that includes both entitlement reform and tax reform -- lawmakers who could comprise a "caucus of common sense," as Mr. Obama said last week.

Mr. Obama attempted to reach a "grand bargain" of entitlement reforms and tax reforms with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in 2011. Those talks, however, fell apart. The end result of those talks was the Budget Control Act -- the bill that created the indiscriminate sequester spending cuts that went into effect on Friday.

Ahead of his first second-term meeting with his full cabinet, Mr. Obama reiterated today that the sequester is "an area of deep concern."

"We are going to manage it as best we can to try to minimize the impacts on American families, but it's not the right way for us to go about deficit reduction," he said. "It makes sense for us to talk a balanced approach that takes a long view and doesn't reduce our commitment to things like education and basic research that will help us grow over the long term. And so I will continue to see out partners on the other side of the aisle so that we can create the kind of balanced approach of spending cuts, revenues, entitlement reform that everybody knows is the right way to do things."

In the latest example of the sequester's effects, the Defense Department said today it will be forced to furlough around 15,000 military school teachers and staff around the world because of the automatic budget cuts. In another example, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a discussion this morning that there were "very long lines" over the weekend at some airports due to overtime cutbacks among Customs staffers.

Carney said today that Mr. Obama's weekend conversations were both about replacing the sequester cuts and a bigger deficit reduction plan. He explained, however, that the broader conversation is not as ambitious as it was in 2011, since the Washington has already achieved around $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction -- nearly $1.5 trillion in spending cuts were enacted in the Budget Control Act, while the "fiscal cliff" bill signed on Jan. 1 brought in around $600 billion in new revenue. Related savings in interest payments makes up the rest of the deficit reduction.

"The big deal has been partly accomplished," Carney said. Mr. Obama's latest proposal, he said, would achieve $1.8 trillion more in budget savings.

"There's no question that more work going forward will need to be done as we deal with our fiscal challenges," Carney said. "But the $4 trillion in deficit reduction set as a goal by Speaker Boehner and President Obama and by many economists on the inside and the outside of government, can be achieved and then some if Republicans would embrace the president's compromise proposal."