Obama proposes budget, Democratic playbook for election

McClatchy Washington BureauMarch 4, 2014 

Obama Budget

Copies of President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget are set out for distribution by Senate Budget Committee Clerk Adam Kamp, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE — AP

— President Barack Obama proposed a $3.9 trillion budget Tuesday seeking new life for core Democratic proposals including preschool, job training and climate change research, paid for with another round of tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and big businesses.

Obama’s request to Congress is unlikely to become law. Instead, the document will serve as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans looking to draw distinctions with one another as they battle for more seats in Congress in November’s midterm elections.

Democrats are fighting to hold onto their narrow majority in the Senate and gain seats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives even as Obama and his signature domestic achievement _ the contentious new federal health care law _ have become toxic for many in their party.

The Obama budget now becomes a roadmap for many of those Democrats, full of new spending and tax increases on the wealthy. Republicans will use it as fresh evidence Democrats are interested in big, intrusive, expensive government.

“Our budget is about choices. It’s about our values,” Obama said Tuesday. “As a country, we’ve got to make a decision if we’re gonna protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans or if we’re gonna make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy and expand opportunity for every American.”

Obama said his plan would cut projected deficits this year to $649 billion and to $413 billion by 2018 before rising slightly again. This year’s deficit is projected to be about 3.7 percent of the nation’s economy, and drop to 1.6 percent by 2024.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Obama’s sixth spending plan “perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet.”

“American families looking for jobs and opportunity will find only more government in this plan,” said Boehner. “Spending too much, borrowing too much and taxing too much, it would hurt our economy and cost jobs.”

House Republicans are expected to offer a much different budget that likely will include big domestic spending cuts, perhaps a bigger boost for defense and no new taxes. It will undoubtedly pass the House and go nowhere in the Senate _ though it will give Republicans ammunition to use against Democrats.

“The president has once again opted for the political stunt _ for a budget that’s more about firing up the president’s base in an election year than about solving the nation’s biggest and most persistent long-term challenges,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who faces a tough re-election.

Senate Democrats do not plan to offer their own budget. “It wouldn’t be productive to re-litigate it so soon” after an agreement between the House and Senate set the broad budget parameters for two years, said Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Obama is proposing $55 billion in new spending next year, split between defense and domestic proposals _ many of them familiar requests he has made to Congress before with little success. He dropped a year-old proposal to trim benefit increases for Social Security recipients and veterans that had angered his party’s base.

He wants to spend money to open manufacturing institutes, conduct health and environmental research, train 100,000 teachers in 500 districts, restore the nation’s historic and cultural landmarks and expand a program to increase home visits by nurses and social workers. He recommends using more than $1 billion to help communities prepare for climate change and launching a competition among states to spur energy efficiency.

The Pentagon budget reflects an administration decision to trim the military force and scale back some weapons systems. At the same time, some defense spending gets a boost.

Obama proposes spending billions more in four major defense areas: weapons systems modernization, training and maintenance of personnel and equipment; support to sustain the nuclear weapons stockpile; and funding for military construction projects.

The “additional spending the president is proposing is likely going nowhere,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group. “The revenue offsets the administration proposed are perennials that are likely to be rejected, particularly in an election year with tax reform on the horizon.”

Obama also wants to spend $302 billion over four years to repair roads, bridges, railways and transit systems, though it does not address a long-term fix for a transportation shortfall. The Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out of money before the end of September.

His plan relies on more than $1 trillion in new taxes on the wealthy and businesses over the next decade. For the second year in a row, he is proposing an increase on cigarette taxes _ $78 billion over 10 years _ to finance sending 4-year-old children from low- and moderate-income families to preschool.

He wants to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, making it more available for low-income workers who do not have children, as well as programs to help Americans afford child care, send their children to college and retire. To pay for that, he would close tax loopholes that he says lets those who earn more money avoid the income and payroll taxes other workers pay.

In his budget, Obama reiterated his support for a series of ambitious proposals that Congress has rejected _ a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws, jobless benefits and a raise of the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

At the White House, Budget Director Sylvia Burwell was asked how the budget could get any results from a divided Congress that has seen many of these proposals before.

She said proposals on infrastructure and what she termed the “pro-growth tax” would help lawmakers view that plan as “something new.” She noted that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., has offered an infrastructure plan as part of his tax code overhaul proposals.

The best hope for the Obama budget lies in the appropriations process. Congressional lawmakers will soon begin writing a dozen spending bills, each covering a different subject area. This is where deals are made and partisan differences are often set aside in the name of compromise.

So while the 2015 spending levels are set, Burwell said, the White House wants to “inform the conversation and debate . . . we’ve tried to construct a budget that is going to represent the president’s vision for both of those things.”

Kevin G. Hall of the Washington bureau contributed to this story.

Email: akumar@mcclatchydc.com, dlightman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @anitakumar01, @davidlightman.

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