President Obama upped the pressure on Congress to approve his FY10 budget, saying Tuesday night that his spending plan and the prospects for economic recovery are inextricably linked.
"This budget is inseparable from this economy, because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity," Obama said in the second prime-time news conference of his presidency.
Obama's latest push for his $3.6 trillion budget came as the House and Senate Budget committees prepared to take up their budget resolutions today, and as House Republicans put the finishing touches on a spending plan, which House Minority Leader Boehner said would be introduced Thursday. Boehner said Tuesday that Obama's budget was "an irresponsible plan that only makes the crisis we're in worse."
Obama will continue his sales job today, when he visits the Capitol to meet with Senate Democrats. He is also planning to meet Monday with House Democrats.
The stakes are high and the path to passage appears difficult, with Republicans vocal in their complaints that the budget would drive up the deficit and some moderate Democrats reluctant to embrace the president's plan a year before they must stand for election.
Obama acknowledged concerns about the deficit but said paying now for broadened healthcare coverage and investing in schools and renewable energy will revitalize the economy and save money in the long run.
"The best way to bring our deficit down in the long run is not with a budget that continues the very same policies that have led us to a narrow prosperity and massive debt," Obama said. "It's with a budget that leads to broad economic growth by moving from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest."
Obama was at times serious and at times folksy in sketching out the challenges posed by the sick economy, calling it at one point "an extraordinary crisis" and at another merely a "rough patch." But he said the only way to address the current crisis and leave a manageable deficit down the road was to take bold, albeit costly, steps now.
"It's going to be an impossible task to balance our budget if we are not tackling rising healthcare costs" and ignore energy as an issue until gasoline reaches $4 a gallon again, Obama said.
The president dodged a bit when asked if he would sign the budget if two of his central proposals -- middle-class tax cuts and a cap-and-trade proposal to control emissions -- were absent when the document reached his desk, saying only, "We never expected when we printed our budget that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it."
But he firmly defended one of his most unpopular proposals -- limiting writeoffs for charitable donations by wealthier Americans.
"If it's really a charitable contribution, I'm assuming [reducing the write-off from 39 percent to 28 percent for the wealthiest folks] shouldn't be the determining factor," the president said.
He called that part of his budget "a realistic way for us to save some revenue," adding, "The most important thing I can do for charitable giving is to fix the economy."
Obama largely ignored the outcry about bonuses paid to American International Group after the company received billions of dollars in federal bailout money. He stopped far short of the crackdown approved by the House, which would slap a 90 percent tax on the bonuses. And he brushed off a question suggesting that he and Treasury Secretary Geithner were slow to criticize AIG by saying he prefers not to comment about matters until he knows what he is talking about.