Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2012 focuses on education, energy, research

President Barack Obama is unveiling his $3.73 trillion spending plan that is certain to ignite a political battle with Republicans who say the proposed budget is too timid about reducing the spiraling U.S. Debt. (Feb. 14)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 12:36 AM

President Obama submitted a budget blueprint for fiscal 2012 on Monday full of surgical cuts and cautious trade-offs to lawmakers clamoring for bold action to reduce government spending and control a budget deficit expected to rise to a record $1.6 trillion this year.

The $3.7 trillion plan proposes to trim or terminate more than 200 federal programs, striking areas long favored by Democrats to make room for increases aimed at boosting the economy. The new priorities include spending on education, energy and medical research, and a push to bring high-speed Internet to virtually every American.

At a time when Republicans are demanding sharp and immediate spending cuts, however, the president's offer to freeze funding for domestic programs would produce minimal savings in the short term. The improving economy would help next year's deficit recede to $1.1 trillion, the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar budget gaps, but Obama's policies would do nothing to further reduce next year's deficit.

Meanwhile, Obama would rely heavily on new taxes to improve the government's finances in the longer term. His budget calls for $1.6 trillion in fresh revenue over the next decade, primarily through higher levies on businesses and the wealthy.

The budget request - the president's first since Republicans won control of the House in November - marks his opening bid in a partisan battle over spending that is likely to consume Congress for the rest of this year and shape the political debate heading into the 2012 presidential election. Fueled by tea party fervor, some Republicans say they are willing to shut down the government to force fiscal restraint, while Democrats are courting independent voters with a more judicious approach.

At a news conference at a Baltimore County middle school dedicated to math and engineering, Obama cast his go-slow approach to budget-cutting as a responsible alternative to the steep reductions Republicans are seeking in a vote this week on the House floor.

"While it's absolutely essential to live within our means, while we are absolutely committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to find further savings and to look at the whole range of budget issues, we can't sacrifice our future in the process," the president said. "I know the American people understand why this is so important."

Republicans blasted the proposed budget as a bait-and-switch, saying it would not deliver on the administration's pledge to reduce deficits primarily by cutting spending. They also said Obama ignored a plan developed by his own fiscal commission to tackle the biggest drivers of future deficits: popular safety-net programs for the elderly and a tax code that offers more in deductions than it collects in revenue.

"This budget was an opportunity for the president to lead. He punted. It only pretends to do the things people want," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a speech on the Senate floor. "This is business as usual at a time when bold, creative solutions are needed. This is not an I-got-the-message budget."

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he found Obama's budget request "more than disappointing. I expected more taxes," he said, "but I also expected some serious spending controls or reforms, and we're getting none of it."

Some Democrats were equally outraged, complaining that the request would cut cherished programs for the poor too deeply. The blueprint would reduce a popular heating-assistance program for low-income Americans by 50 percent, trim $300 million from community development block grants and scale back an expansion of the Pell grant program for low-income college students that has proved more costly than expected.

"How can we stop the Republican cuts when the President has one-upped them?" Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said in a statement.

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