Obama's budget proposal will be delayed a bit

President Obama and the first family are spending the last days of 2010 on vacation in his old stomping grounds.
By Karen Tumulty Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 29, 2010; 7:12 PM

President Obama now expects to release his fiscal 2012 budget in mid-February, about a week later than the timetable set out under the Budget Act of 1974, administration officials said Tuesday.

The White House needs additional time in part because of a six-week delay in the Senate confirmation of new budget director Jacob Lew.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) had put a hold on Lew's nomination to protest the administration's moratorium on offshore oil drilling. When the administration lifted the moratorium in October, Landrieu continued the hold, saying she objected to the way drilling permits were being issued. Lew finally was confirmed in November.

Also slowing the process was the fact that Congress worked late into December without finalizing funding decisions for the current fiscal year. The government is currently operating on a continuing resolution that funds its operations into early March.

Officials said they do not believe the delay in submitting the president's spending blueprint will have much effect on fiscal 2012 budget deliberations.

The president's budget, which does not have the force of law, functions mostly as a political and symbolic statement of his priorities and an assessment of the economic outlook for the coming year.

At a time of divided government, the president's budget is often declared "dead on arrival" as soon as it hits Capitol Hill. However, it does provide a starting point for debate,with the budget committees of each house holding hearings on it and summoning officials to explain and defend it.

Though both parties have pledged to reduce a deficit that is running at more than $1 trillion a year, they have dramatically different ideas about how to do it. Republicans have promised to use their new House majority and their increased numbers in the Senate to force sharp cutbacks in spending.

In addition, the president's bipartisan commission has made recommendations for reining in the deficit and the federal debt, and Obama has not yet indicated whether he favors them.

Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who is now president of the Urban Institute, said the president's budget for the coming fiscal year may get more scrutiny than usual, thanks to shifts in both the political and economic landscapes.

"It will be a signal to the Republicans in the House of how far the president is willing to go," Reischauer said. "It will also be an indication of when the president intends to shift from forward into reverse," leaning away from measures designed to stimulate the recovery and putting more emphasis on deficit reduction.

Before Obama left last week for a family vacation in Hawaii, he predicted at a news conference: "I expect we'll have a robust debate about this when we return from the holidays - a debate that will have to answer an increasingly urgent question, and that is: How do we cut spending that we don't need while making investments that we do need?"

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