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Correction to This Article
A chart with the continuation of the article, comparing President Obama's proposed cuts with the entire federal budget, was out of proportion. It is reprinted here to show the correct visual proportion of the proposed cuts.

Democrats Assail Obama's Hit List

Lawmakers Vow to Protect Pet Programs

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By Lori Montgomery and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 8, 2009

President Obama's modest proposal to slice $17 billion from 121 government programs quickly ran into a buzz saw of opposition on Capitol Hill yesterday, as an array of Democratic lawmakers vowed to fight White House efforts to deprive their favorite initiatives of federal funds.

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she is "committed" to keeping a $400 million program that reimburses states for jailing illegal immigrants, a task she called "a total federal responsibility."

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said he would oppose "any cuts" in agriculture subsidies because "farmers and farm families depend on this federal assistance."

And Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.) vowed to force the White House to accept delivery of a new presidential helicopter Obama says he doesn't need and doesn't want. The helicopter program, which cost $835 million this year, supports 800 jobs in Hinchey's district. "I do think there's a good chance we can save it," he said.

The news releases began flying as Obama unveiled the long-awaited details of his $3.4 trillion spending plan, including a list of programs he wants to trim or eliminate. Though the proposed reductions represent just one-half of 1 percent of next year's budget, the swift protest was a precursor of the battle Obama will face within his own party to control spending and rein in a budget deficit projected to exceed $1.2 trillion next year.

As small as it is, the list of reductions highlights Obama's first effort to reshape priorities that were tilted heavily toward defense and national security under President George W. Bush. While the Pentagon would get a significant increase overall, more than half Obama's projected savings -- $8.8 billion -- would come out of 14 defense programs, the most from any agency. And for the first time since 2003, the budget would devote more money to the war in Afghanistan than to the one in Iraq.

Stephen Ellis, vice president of the nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the budget proposal presents "a real test of presidential leadership."

"What all this is going to come down to is whether this administration is willing to put the political capital and shoe leather into holding Congress to these cuts. Because every one of these programs has some special interest and some lawmaker that thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread," Ellis said. "The previous administration had a very long track record of putting up decently thought-out cuts that they basically abandoned the day after the budget came out."

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said he realizes that "this is a cooperative process with Congress," and that he has been "heartened by meetings with lawmakers, who are also actively seeking a variety of savings." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has asked House committee chairs to come up with their own list of savings by early next month.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of agriculture spending, said lawmakers' lists may wind up replacing the president's list, which she said has a number of worrisome ideas. She cited a plan to eliminate an early childhood education program called Even Start, which the Obama administration has called ineffective.

"There may be some similar. There may be some different. There may be new ones added to the list," DeLauro said. "But we're all on the same wavelength. We know we've got to take a look at where we cut back on spending."

The budget documents released yesterday total more than 1,500 pages and fill in details of the broad outline that Obama released in February and that Congress approved last week. A massive appendix lists program-by-program requests for the roughly 40 percent of the budget controlled by Congress, and a separate tome details programs targeted for elimination.


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