The Washington Post

Why the Obama budget is already dead

Congress has passed a two-year budget agreement that sets spending levels through the end of 2015, meaning that members of the House and Senate can justifiably dismiss the budget President Obama unveiled Tuesday as irrelevant.

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But the White House is required by law to present a budget proposal each year, so Obama used the moment to release an ambitious proposal that relies on more than $1 trillion in new taxes and includes more than $55 billion in new spending. Next week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is expected to follow up with a proposal that will focus on welfare reform and an overhaul of social programs, including Head Start and Medicaid.

Neither proposal will go anywhere — and that's by design.

"Everybody realizes that both sides are going to continue to put out their message documents to show what they would do if they gained seats in the House or Senate," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday. "But at the same time, there’s a very strong desire to start legislating."

With a budget fight out of the way until late next year, attention is expected to focus in the coming weeks on the House and Senate appropriations committees that will decide how federal agencies can spend money next year. But before that begins, both parties paused Tuesday to take shots at the opposing side.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Obama had "opted for the political stunt for a budget that's more about firing up the base in an election year than about solving the nation's biggest and most persistent long-term challenges."

Other Republicans followed in lock-step. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) called it "dead on arrival," while Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) dismissed it as a "lame-duck budget." Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), a freshman member of the House Budget Committee, preferred to call it a "campaign document." He said he looked forward to reading Ryan's budget plan next week.

“I think what you’ll see from us is a budget that resembles what we’ve passed the last several cycles, with an effort to put forward a conservative vision of what we need to do to put people back to work, reform our welfare systems and get America going again," Messer said.

But GOP aides said there are no current plans to hold votes on Ryan's budget plan.

Democrats, meanwhile, cheered Obama's proposal. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) credited the White House for including new investments in the nation's infrastructure, while Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) said he supported calls for new investments in manufacturing and education. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) thanked Obama for including money to help cut carbon pollution that might help prevent deadly weather events like Hurricane Sandy. But Democrats expressed only perfunctory hope that Republicans would allow debate on Obama's plan.

"Budgets are statements of our values as a nation," Pallone said.

The Senate Budget Committee will meet Wednesday morning with the White House budget chief to review Obama's proposals. Senate Democrats have no plan to debate or pass another budget bill this year, but Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she hopes Republicans will consider Obama's ideas "as a supplement" to ongoing work on appropriations bills.

That's unlikely to happen. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) flatly rejected Obama's proposal Tuesday, saying it was "extremely disappointing" that the White House plan "blatantly disregards the budget limits" established in the budget passed in December. Rogers said he plans to stick with the $1.014 trillion spending plan approved in December.

And other lawmakers said that's how it should be — that there's no need for another fight over spending.

"Do we need to go through it again if we’ve already done it?" said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Budget Committee. "It’s not like we don’t have other things we could be doing."

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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