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Republicans question Obama's claim that new proposals won't raise deficit

In his first State of the Union address since reelection, President Obama made several references to his former opponent, Mitt Romney.

In his first State of the Union address since reelection, President Obama made several references to his former opponent, Mitt Romney. Raising the minimum wage, he said, is an idea he and Governor Romney “actually agreed on last year.” To improve what he called “the voting experience in America,” the president announced a new non-partisan commission led by an attorney for Romney’s presidential campaign. But there was another idea that the president didn’t attach Romney’s name to, but which seemed to be taken straight out of the Romney campaign playbook. In his pledge to make economic growth his “North Star,” the president called for new investments in education, manufacturing and clean energy. To reassure a nation facing a ballooning debt, Obama promised that these new proposals would not add "a single dime" to the deficit.

If this promise sounds familiar, it’s because Romney made that very same claim about his tax proposals. On the campaign trail and in debates, Romney vowed that his proposed tax cuts would not add to the deficit. The Obama campaign and Congressional Democrats slammed Romney for making empty promises, or worse, lying to the American people. In his infamous DNC speech, President Bill Clinton entered the fray, arguing that Romney’s numbers didn’t add up. There were many reasons why Romney lost the election, but the notion that he was being dishonest about the cost of his plans was certainly one of them. After his State of the Union address, President Obama is now facing the same accusations from Republicans.

On Wednesday, Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, joined Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss that criticism, which he called "political remarks" that "are not based on any substantive facts at all." Sperling, who serves as the assistant to the president for economic policy, proceeded to list examples of Obama’s past commitments to cutting the deficit. Mitchell then pressed Sperling to answer the question of how the president planned to pay for his new proposals, which include expanding pre-kindergarten programs, revamping the federal aid system, and boosting manufacturing.

“So,” Sperling responded, “what the president said very clearly yesterday is that he is living within the Budget Control Act, so on the domestic spending targets we've agreed to, we're living with those.  And those will cut the deficit by well over $1 trillion and bring us to the lowest levels of domestic discretionary spending in nearly 50 years.” As for new initiatives, Sperling said, the White House would find additional savings in order to meet its debt reduction goals, and pay for the new programs “without increasing the deficit by a penny.”

Later on Andrea Mitchell Reports, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) voiced his concern that there is no plan to finance the proposals that will drive Obama’s second term. Referring to the claim that these new investments won’t add to the deficit, Rep. Chaffetz said, “You know, I have a hard time believing that.  I want to believe it, but I haven't yet seen it.”

One of the reasons he hasn’t seen the plan, he said, is that the president has not presented a budget to congress. “It’s been four years since the Senate’s been able to produce a budget,” noted Chaffetz. “If we could get to point where we could agree on a budget, then everything else falls into line.”

In his address, President Obama pledged to cut the deficit, but spoke more about tax reform than entitlement programs, which economists say are crucial to bringing down the deficit. In fact, he only mentioned the word "entitlement reform" once, and offered few details on how he planned to reform Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, the nation's most expensive social safety nets.

Perhaps riding the wave of bipartisanship that took over Capitol Hill Tuesday night – as Democrats and Republicans sat side by side during the State of the Union - Rep. Chaffetz said that he’s on the same page as Obama in certain respects. Closing some tax loopholes, for example, is something that Chaffetz said he can get behind.  “But this idea that nothing’s going to cost any money in terms of the deficit,” he said, “that’s just stunning.  I just can't believe that that's true.  And if it is true, then show us the budget where he believes that's true.”