WASHINGTON – Republicans are mocking President Obama’s $3.73 trillion budget for 2012 for waving feebly at historically huge federal deficits. As if to show how it should be done, they are ready to start muscling their own package of deep cuts in domestic spending through the House.
Eager to please their conservative tea party supporters, Republicans are championing $61 billion in cuts to hundreds of programs for the remaining seven months of this federal fiscal year under a bill the House planned to debate Tuesday. AmeriCorps and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be completely erased, while deep cuts would be carved from programs for feeding poor women and children, training people for jobs and cleaning the Great Lakes.
Reductions of that magnitude this late in a fiscal year would have a jarring impact on many programs. The GOP-run House planned to approve the measure Thursday.
The proposed reductions have “showdown” written all over them. Republicans included them in a must-pass bill financing the government, which otherwise runs out of money on March 4. The Democratic-controlled Senate and Obama himself are sure to turn them down.
“We have consistently said it’s not our intention to shut down this government,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Monday of one possibility should there be an impasse. “That’s political talk and we ought to get that off the table and we ought to go about the real business of trying to cut spending.”
Democrats were not inclined to let Republicans off easy. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warned that college students, police officers and children would be victimized.
“House Republicans are going too far, sacrificing Americans’ health, safety and future in order to protect the special interests,” she said in a written statement.
Meanwhile, White House budget director Jacob Lew was kicking off the administration’s defense of its 2012 budget on Capitol Hill with an appearance Tuesday before the House Budget Committee.
Obama unveiled his fiscal blueprint a day earlier, a plan that mixes tax increases on the wealthy and some businesses, a five-year freeze on most domestic programs, and boosts for elementary schools, clean energy and airport security. The outline is a first step in what is likely to be a bitter partisan fight as Congress translates it into a parade of tax and spending bills.
Despite its savings, Obama’s budget projects a record $1.65 trillion deficit this year, falling to $1.1 trillion next year and easing thereafter. Even so, it stands to generate a mammoth $7.2 trillion sea of red ink over the next 10 years, a number that would be even larger had the president not claimed over $1 trillion in 10-year savings by winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Glaringly missing from the president’s budget was a substantial reshaping of Social Security, Medicare and other massive, automatically paid benefit programs that bipartisan members of his deficit-reduction commission had recommended last year. That leaves the nation under a black fiscal cloud as its aging population, prolonged lifespans and ever costlier medical procedures leave the government with enormous I.O.U.’s.
Most Republicans have also shied away from calling for savings from so-called entitlement programs, but that’s not stopped them from criticizing Obama’s failure to do so. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, has called for such reductions, but would not predict whether they would be included in the 2012 spending plan his panel plans to write this spring.
“The president punted on the budget, he punted on the deficit,” Ryan told reporters. “That’s not leadership, that’s an abdication of leadership.”
Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday, Ryan said that while the GOP doesn’t want to see a government shutdown, it also does not plan to “rubber stamp” policies it opposes.
And he reiterated that lawmakers cannot expect to exempt benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare from the budget-cutting fervor, saying that if Republicans “ignore the drivers of our debt, which are these entitlement programs, then we are no better than the president.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said people do not have to “prepare to lose significant benefits.”
“If we start now and we do the right thing today and work together, we can reform Social Security and Medicare, which is over half of our budget, correct, and make some real progress there to put them on a sustainable path,” the Alabama Republican said on CBS’s “The Earl y Show.”
Overall, Obama’s budget claims $1.1 trillion in deficit reduction from tax increases and spending cuts over the next decade while protecting some — but not all — programs that Democrats cherish.
“We believe it strikes the right balance for the country going forward,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
Not all from Obama’s party are happy. The head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., criticized proposed cuts in community development, while Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Obama had fallen short in reducing the deficit.
By 2021, Obama projects that $844 billion out of the $5.7 trillion federal budget would go toward paying interest on the government’s debt. Such interest payments would exceed the size of the entire federal budget in 1983.
Federal budgets often burrow into the minutest details of the bureaucracy, and Obama’s was no exception.
The State Department said it expected to save $5.3 million over the next three years by painting the roofs of its embassies and other offices in a heat-reflecting, energy-saving white color. And the U.S. Agency for International Development projected hundreds of thousands in savings by reducing the font size in its documents to reduce paper usage.
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