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Obama budget projects record $1.6 trillion deficit
Obama also directs Congress to develop a plan to pay for a new, multi-year transportation bill, a measure traditionally funded by increasing the federal tax on gasoline. "Bipartisan financing" for the transportation trust fund is likely to add another $328 billion to the revenue tally, raising total tax hikes in Obama's budget request to nearly $2 trillion through 2021.
The request drops one major proposal from previous budgets: Obama's plan to develop a system of tradeable vouchers for greenhouse gas emissions. The measure, which passed the House, came under fierce attack from the GOP and the industry and was never taken up by the Senate.
Obama's deficit-reduction strategies would do little to improve the immediate budget outlook. Obama projects that the deficit will hit a record $1.6 trillion this year - which, at nearly 11 percent of the economy, would be the largest since World War II. The bigger wave of red ink is caused in part by the recent bipartisan tax deal, which reduced payroll taxes this year for virtually every working American.
The annual deficit would recede to $1.1 trillion next year, as Obama's latest policies began to take effect - the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficits. Obama projects that the deficit would fall rapidly thereafter, settling around $600 billion a year through 2018, when it would once again begin to climb as a growing number of retirees tapped into Social Security and Medicare.
All told, Obama estimates that the nation would have to borrow an additional $7.2 trillion through 2021 under his policies, an improvement from previous projections that exceeded $9 trillion. His plan calls for annual deficits - and therefore annual borrowing - to stabilize at about 3 percent of the economy for much of the decade. The national debt would then level off at about 76 percent of economy, nearly double the debt burden the nation carried before the recent recession.
However, those figures are based on the assumption that the economy will grow 4 percent in 2012 and 4.5 percent in 2013 - well above most private and governmental projections.
Obama said the document represents a pivot toward fiscal responsibility after two years of increased spending to stabilize the ravaged economy.
"Now that the threat of depression has passed, and economic growth is beginning to take hold, taking further steps toward reducing our long -term deficit has to be a priority, and it is in this budget," Obama wrote. "We will not be able to compete with countries like China if we keep borrowing more and more from countries like China."
But Republicans blasted the document as a bait-and-switch, saying it fails to live up to recent assertions by White House budget director Jacob Lew that Obama would reduce deficits primarily by cutting spending.
"What we have here is a total abdication of leadership and talking points based on gimmicks and cooking the books," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in an interview. "To me, it's more than disappointing. I expected more taxes, but I also expected some serious spending controls or reforms, and we're getting none of it."
Although the budget request offers an important glimpse of the president's priorities - his first since Republicans regained control of the House in November - it is unlikely to have much influence in the budget debate on Capitol Hill. House Republicans plan to offer their own spending proposal for fiscal 2012, after attempting to push through sharp and immediate cuts to spending this year.
Democrats, who control the Senate, have vowed to block the GOP cuts, setting the stage for a battle that could shut down the government unless the two sides can agree by a March 4 deadline. For next year's budget, Senate Democrats are more amenable to Obama's approach. But they, too, are pursuing a bolder budget strategy in hopes of striking a bipartisan compromise that would go further to solve the nation's long-term problems.