WASHINGTON (CNN) - Despite a ballyhooed charm offensive by President Barack Obama, political leaders continued talking past each other on Tuesday in proposing partisan ideas on taxes and spending that have zero chance of winning congressional approval.
Obama planned to meet with Senate Democrats in the first of three visits to Capitol Hill this week for talks with legislators.
The rare appearances by the president, a former senator, follow newly unveiled outreach efforts that included dinner with Senate Republicans and lunch with two influential House members last week, as well as phone calls to various legislators from both parties.
Whether symbolic or sincere, Obama's increased personal engagement came as Congress prepared for the first formal budget debate since the president took office four years ago.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan fired the opening salvo on Tuesday, announcing his proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 that he said would eliminate the annual deficit in a decade without raising taxes.
"We think we owe the country a balanced budget," Ryan told reporters. "We think we owe the country solutions to the big problems that are plaguing our nation -- a debt crisis on the horizon, a slow growing economy, people trapped in poverty. We are showing our answers."
The Wisconsin Republican's plan calls for cutting $5 trillion from projected spending increases in the next 10 years while lowering tax rates and getting rid of most of Obama's signature legislation of his first term -- the 2010 health care reform law.
Ryan also revived his controversial proposal to reform Medicare, the health care program for senior citizens that is considered the biggest driver of rising federal deficits as costs increase and more Americans become eligible.
The provision, which would take effect in 2024 to exempt people 55 and older today, calls for offering senior citizens a choice between traditional fee-for-service Medicare and a premium support system that would provide a fixed government payment to help them buy private health insurance.
It also would cap total Medicare spending, which currently has no top limit.
Democratic rejection of much of Ryan's approach was immediate.
"While the House Republican budget aims to reduce the deficit, the math just doesn't add up," said a White House statement. "Deficit reduction that asks nothing from the wealthiest Americans has serious consequences for the middle class."
In language similar to the political back-and-forth of the past two years, the White House complained that the Ryan proposal amounted to a "top-down approach" that Obama believes "is the wrong course for America."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, contended voters rejected such policies last November in re-electing Obama instead of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Ryan, the party's vice-presidential hopeful.
"His budget reflects the same skewed priorities the Republican Party has championed for years; the same skewed priorities Americans rejected in November," Reid said on the Senate floor. "The Ryan Republican budget will call for more tax breaks for the wealthy, an end to Medicare as we know it and draconian cuts to education and other programs that help America's economy grow and prosper."
Ryan noted that "the election didn't go our way," but asked whether than meant Republicans must surrender their principles.
"Whether the country intended it or not, we have divided government," he said, noting Republicans control the House while Democrats lead the Senate and occupy the White House. "We have the second largest House majority we've had since World War II. And what we believe in this divided government era - we need to put up our vision."
Senate Democrats plan to make public their own 2014 budget proposal on Wednesday, with broad expectations that it will include more tax revenue from wealthy Americans to help bring down deficits.
After agreeing in January to allow rates on top income earners to return to higher levels of the 1990s, Republican leaders say they oppose any further tax increases or other measures to raise more tax revenue.
Ryan also wants to repeal major elements of Obama's health reform law, including subsidies for Americans who buy their insurance on newly created exchanges intended to broaden coverage.
In addition, his proposal would convert federal funding for Medicaid and food stamps into block grants for states. The move would give states more administrative leeway in running the programs, such as changing eligibility requirements or how much participants must pay.
The Ryan budget calls for Congress to complete major tax reform by 2014.
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, has said GOP priorities include reducing the number of individual income tax rates to two (10% and 25%), and lowering the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.
"The committee will continue to oppose any and all efforts to increase tax revenues by any means other than economic growth," Camp said in a letter this week.
By clearly staking out positions in the formal budgeting process, Obama and Congress appear intent on trying to avoid the crisis-driven brinksmanship of the past four years that deepened Washington's defining political divide.
However, the familiarly partisan nature of Ryan's plan unveiled Tuesday and the Democratic response raised doubts of any lessening of that divide, which the public blames for legislative dysfunction.
A CBS News poll last week showed more than 70% of respondents want both sides to compromise to end the impasse over taxes and spending that dominated Obama's first term.
During the past four years, House Republicans passed partisan budgets that Senate Democrats ignored, forcing the repeated extension of past spending plans.
Meanwhile, the president's budget proposals generated little support in Congress.
The upcoming negotiations are complicated by lingering fiscal issues from past showdowns.
Deep cuts to military and other discretionary spending took effect this month, and both sides were expected to try to soften their impact through a separate funding measure for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.
Called a continuing resolution, it must pass by March 27 to prevent a partial government shutdown. The Republican-led House passed its version last week, and the Democratic-led Senate was expected to take up its own version as soon as Tuesday.
Congress also must authorize an increase in the federal borrowing limit this summer.
Obama still calls for a comprehensive deficit-reduction package that would overhaul the tax system, cut spending and reform popular entitlement programs.
He and fellow Democrats insist that such an approach, labeled the grand bargain, must include increased tax revenue from wealthy Americans to prevent the burden of austerity steps in spending and entitlement reforms from hitting the middle class, the elderly and other vulnerable demographics too hard.
Republicans led by their conservative base seek to shrink the size and cost of government, opposing any new tax revenue while pushing for spending cuts and lower tax rates that they say will spur more economic growth.
A comprehensive deficit-reduction deal appeared close during Obama's first term, but eventually fell apart over the deep ideological differences regarding taxes.
Such an agreement would reform the tax system to lower both personal and corporate rates while eliminating some loopholes and breaks. It also would reform Medicare and Medicaid and possibly Social Security to ensure their solvency.
The major sticking point of a comprehensive agreement will be taxes.
Obama and Democrats want to eliminate tax breaks and loopholes worth about $600 billion over 10 years as part of a broader $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package that would include entitlement reforms.
Some Republicans have indicated support for ending such tax breaks as part of a broad deal. However, the fiscal-cliff agreement in January that resulted in higher tax rates on top income earners galvanized opposition by GOP leaders to further increases in tax revenue.
A sticking point in a possible compromise on taxes would be whether increased revenue realized through reforms, such as eliminating existing loopholes, go toward holding down rates or reducing the deficit.
Meanwhile, Republicans say Obama and Democrats must deliver on significant entitlement reforms.
"Democrats cannot be trusted to help fix our country's fiscal mess, if they cannot be trusted to balance the budget and create jobs," said a news release on Tuesday from the National Republican Congressional Committee. "The choice is clear: Democrats' perpetual deficits or Republicans' plan to balance the budget and spur economic growth."
One change Obama has proposed would tighten the adjustment for inflation of benefits such as Social Security, meaning annual increases for future recipients would grow at a slower pace.
Opponents of the reform, known as "chained CPI" in reference to the consumer price index it involves, argue it hurts vulnerable senior citizens and others who most need their benefits.
If achieved, a grand bargain would give Obama a major political victory and a boost in cementing his desired presidential legacy after the controversial health care and Wall Street reforms of his first term.
Republicans also would get credit from moderates and independents for a willingness to compromise, but conservatives could punish them with primary challenges in 2014 and beyond.
Another possible outcome is a limited agreement that would include some elements under discussion.
For example, a smaller agreement might end some tax breaks and loopholes while cutting Medicare costs paid providers, not beneficiaries, to achieve $500 billion or so in deficit reduction over 10 years.
Such an outcome, coupled with previous spending cuts and the January fiscal-cliff deal, would fail to reach the total $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade that economists and political leaders have targeted as the minimum amount needed.
It also would allow both parties to simultaneously claim credit for making some progress after the past years of dysfunction while continuing to blame the other for preventing more.
A status quo outcome of no major deficit reduction steps would mean continued brinksmanship over each pending fiscal deadline, as well as further economic uncertainty that already has lowered the U.S. credit rating and slowed growth.
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2013 WorldNow and KIII. All Rights Reserved.