Fresh from being savaged by Republicans for his proposed $3.7 trillion 2012 budget, members of his own party are deserting President Barack Obama for crafting a spending plan that does not do enough to rein in federal spending and cut the deficit. The budget also is under attack from liberals who say the burden of spending cuts has been placed on the backs of the poor.
Republicans mocked Obama's budget immediately after it was
released on Monday. "The president punted on the budget, he punted on the deficit," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "That's not leadership, that's an abdication of leadership."
"In our nation's most pressing fiscal challenges, the president has abdicated his leadership role," Ryan said. "When his own commission put forward a set of fundamental entitlement and tax reforms . . . he ignored them."
Republicans were soon joined by unhappy Democrats of all stripes. Some lawmakers think the measure is too timid, liberal members are worried about programs for the underprivileged, and Democrats with an eye on their re-election campaigns are trying to save programs dear to their constituents.
During a Senate Budget Committee hearing, Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Chris Coons, D-Del., were critical of the proposal. Committee Chairman Conrad said Obama should have gone after entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.
Coons, a member of the president’s debt commission, unloaded on Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew for not following through on such debt commission recommendations such as reforming the tax code, Medicare, and Social Security, The Hill newspaper reported.
“I think in large part, the strongest work of the commission is absent in this budget,” Coons said according to The Hill.
The president’s budget also includes $2.5 billion in cuts to a heating assistance program for the poor, cuts to NASA, cuts to the Community Development Blocks grants program, and cuts to Pell Grants — all of which have drawn the ire of liberals.
Senate Appropriations subcommittee chair Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said when it comes to cutting programs that help low-income Americans that “There can be pain, but I want to make sure it’s not just on them. I want to make sure there’s Wall Street pain, there’s Pentagon pain, that there’s wealthy pain,” The Nation reported.
The Vermont congressional delegation, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in a joint statement that “we cannot balance the budget on the backs of senior citizens on fixed incomes, low-income families with children, and persons with disabilities.”
The statement went on to say the heating program “provides critical heating assistance for senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and low-income families with children . . . The last thing we should be doing is making it harder for the most vulnerable people in this country to stay warm in the winter."
The criticism knocked the president, whose $3.73 trillion budget includes cuts that are geared to reduce the deficit by $1.1 trillion in the next 10 years, into a defensive stance.
“What my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts so that by the middle of this decade our annual spending will match our annual revenues,” he said in a surprise news conference Tuesday. “We will not be adding more to the national debt. It's — so, to use a sort of — an analogy that families are familiar with, we're not going to be running up the credit card anymore.
The president was reduced to pleading with the press corps for patience, arguing that his budget was just the beginning of the process.
“Now, part of the challenge here is that this town — let's face it, you guys are pretty impatient. If something doesn't happen today, then the assumption is it's just not going to happen, all right,” he said.
Obama said, “we're going to be in discussions over the next several months. I mean, this is going to be a negotiation process.
“And the key thing that I think the American people want to see is that all sides are serious about it and all sides are willing to give a little bit, and that there's a genuine spirit of compromise as opposed to people being interested in scoring political points,” he said.
“Now, we did that in December during the lame duck on the tax cut issues. Both sides had to give. And, you know, there were folks in my party who were not happy and there were folks in the Republican Party who were not happy. And my suspicion is is that we're going to be able to do the same thing if we have that same attitude with respect to entitlements,” the president added.
Eager to please their conservative tea party supporters, Republicans are championing $61 billion in cuts to hundreds of programs for the remaining seven months of this federal fiscal year. AmeriCorps and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be completely erased, while deep cuts would be carved from programs for feeding poor women and children, training people for jobs, and cleaning the Great Lakes.
Obama's plan mixes tax increases on the wealthy and some businesses, a five-year freeze on most domestic programs, and boosts for elementary schools, clean energy, and airport security.
The outline is a first step in what is likely to be a bitter partisan fight as Congress translates it into a parade of tax and spending bills.
Despite its savings, Obama's budget projects a record $1.65 trillion deficit this year, falling to $1.1 trillion next year and easing thereafter. Even so, it stands to generate a mammoth $7.2 trillion sea of red ink over the next 10 years, a number that would be even larger had the president not claimed over $1 trillion in 10-year savings by winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Glaringly missing from the president's budget was a substantial reshaping of Social Security, Medicare, and other massive, automatically paid benefit programs that bipartisan members of his deficit-reduction commission had recommended last year. That leaves the nation under a black fiscal cloud as its aging population, prolonged lifespans, and ever costlier medical procedures leave the government with enormous IOUs.
Overall, Obama's budget claims $1.1 trillion in deficit reduction from tax increases and spending cuts over the next decade while protecting some — but not all — programs that Democrats cherish.
By 2021, Obama projects that $844 billion out of the $5.7 trillion federal budget would go toward paying interest on the government's debt. Such interest payments would exceed the size of the entire federal budget in 1983.
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