Obama to Pursue Budget Goals on Hill

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

President Obama will go to Capitol Hill this week to try to persuade skeptical Senate Democrats to support the administration's first budget request after an analysis showed that the spending plan would drive the nation deeply into debt over the next decade.

Obama will address Senate Democrats on Wednesday, when budget committees are scheduled to meet in the House and Senate to consider the $3.6 trillion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins in October.

Centrist Democrats in both chambers have expressed concerns about the proposal, which would force the nation to borrow nearly $9.3 trillion over the next 10 years to fund the president's priorities in health care, education and other areas, according to an analysis released Friday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That is $2.3 trillion more than the White House had previously estimated.

"My impression is that the administration is getting quite nervous about having adequate Democratic support to pass this budget," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday. "Clearly, they've got a tough sell to make to get their centrist Democrats to buy in to a product which . . . will double the national debt in five years and triple it in 10 years."

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has been among those complaining about elevated levels of spending in the president's request. Yesterday, after meeting at the White House with Biden, Conrad said he has made "hundreds of billions of dollars of adjustments" to Obama's request in the budget proposal he plans to unveil today.

"When you lose $2.3 trillion on a revenue forecast, then you have to change and budget. And we have changed the budget," Conrad said.

Conrad said his proposal would trim Obama's spending request across the board to dramatically reduce future deficits. In 2014, for example, when the CBO predicts that Obama's request would produce a $750 billion deficit, or 4.3 percent of the nation's overall economy, Conrad said his proposal would generate a deficit of less than $600 billion, or just under 3 percent of the economy. Many economists consider a deficit equal to 3 percent of the economy to be sustainable, because at that level the nation's borrowing would not grow faster than the economy as a whole.

Administration officials signaled that the White House may be willing to accept significant spending cuts so long as the president's signature initiatives on health care, education and clean energy are preserved.

The House and Senate budget committees will each vote on their versions of the spending plan this week, with the two chambers expected to consider the plans next week. Any differences between the two proposals would then have to be reconciled over the Easter break.

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