Obama to propose spending cuts in budget plan aimed at countering conservatives

President Barack Obama's $3.5 trillion-plus budget plan will likely be ignored by resurgent Republicans intent on cutting tens of billions of dollars from the president's old budget. (Feb. 13)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 12:02 AM

President Obama will respond to a Republican push for a drastic reduction in government spending by proposing sharp cuts of his own in a fiscal 2012 budget blueprint that aims to trim record federal deficits by $1.1 trillion over the next decade.

Obama would reach his target in part by raising taxes, an idea that Republicans refuse to consider. But two-thirds of the savings would come from spending cuts that are draconian by Democratic standards and take aim at liberal priorities, such as a popular low-income heating assistance program and community development block grants.

Obama also targets the Pentagon, traditionally considered untouchable by both parties, by adopting $78 billion in savings proposed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

The White House proposal, outlined Friday by a senior administration official, would barely put a dent in deficits that congressional budget analysts say could approach $12 trillion through 2021. But the policies would stabilize borrowing, the administration official said, while reversing the trend of ramping up spending to blunt the trauma of the recent recession.

"After a decade of rising deficits, this budget asks Washington to live within its means, while at the same time investing in our future," Obama said Saturday in his weekly national address. "It cuts what we can't afford to pay for what we cannot do without."

When it lands Monday on Capitol Hill, Obama's plan will launch a bidding war with Republicans over how deeply and swiftly to cut, as the two parties seek a path to fiscal stability for a nation awash in red ink. The effort could lead to a landmark agreement akin to the bipartisan deficit-reduction deals struck under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton - or it could produce congressional gridlock of epic proportions, possibly resulting in a government shutdown, while allowing long-term fiscal problems to fester.

While Obama would save money primarily through a five-year freeze in domestic spending, Republicans are calling for cuts in those programs, starting immediately. The House will begin debate Tuesday on a plan to slash $61 billion over the next seven months from a broad range of programs, including areas that Obama deems critical to economic growth - such as high-speed rail, scientific innovation and education.

The 359-page measure filed Friday by House Republicans would cut $600 million from IRS budgets for enforcement and computer modernization and eliminate a program that puts thousands of police officers on local streets. It would also wipe out two decades of education initiatives by pulling nearly $5 billion from the Education Department, including funds for math and science and the popular Teach for America program, which puts well-trained teachers in needy schools.

And that is just the start for Republicans, who are eager to satisfy the tea party voters who helped the GOP win control of the House in November.

"Next week, we are going to cut more than $100 billion. And we're not going to stop there," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told a conference of conservative activists Friday. "Once we cut the discretionary accounts, then we'll get into the mandatory spending. And then you'll see more cuts."

Seeking a middle ground

Obama is sending a similar message, but to a different constituency: the independent voters who abandoned Democrats in droves last year and who are crucial to the president's 2012 reelection prospects. This bloc shares the tea party's alarm over the $14 trillion national debt but takes a more nuanced view of how to achieve fiscal balance.

"Anything considered draconian is going to appeal to a certain crowd that's out there saying we've got to cut our way out of the problem," said Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), a key moderate Democrat. "But for most of us, if you cut the wrong things, then you impair your ability to grow your way out."

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