Republicans Skeptical of Obama's Budget

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John Boehner on NBC's "Meet the Press." credit: AP Photo/NBC, William B. Plowman

One day before President Obama releases his budget plan for next year, House Republicans said today that they aren't impressed with what they've heard so far.

"Spends too much, borrows too much, and taxes too much," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., echoed the same talking point, telling "Fox News Sunday" that "it sounds like the... budgets he has been giving us the last couple of years" and didn't place enough emphasis on spending cuts.

"We will see the details of this budget tomorrow, but it looks to me like that it is going to be very small on spending discipline and a lot of new spending; so-called 'investments,'" Ryan said.

White House officials said the new budget will reduce deficits by a total of $1.1 trillion over the next decade, mainly through a freeze on non-securty defense spending for five years and cuts in domestic programs like community development block grants and in heating assistance for low-income people.

Though not insignificant, the cuts are small compared to the $12 trillion in deficits that congressional analysts predict over the next decade if Congress doesn't change any current policies.

"The president is elected to lead and to face the country's biggest challenges," Ryan continued. "The biggest challenge domestically speaking -- no doubt about it -- is this debt crisis, and I am really hoping that he is going to give us a budget that tackles this debt crisis."

The biggest saving in the White House plan would come from the five-year freeze on domestic spending, which it estimates would save $400 billion through 2021. The president also hopes to cut $78 billion from the Pentagon spending through cuts that Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed earlier this year. A cut in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program would save about $2.5 billion.

Ryan and other Republicans have been critical of the freeze, claiming it simply locks in spending at already inflated levels.

"This discretionary freeze is off an extremely high base," Ryan said. "They just blew spending out of the gates; a 24 percent increase in domestic discretionary spending over the last two years, when you throw the stimulus on that it was an 84 percent increase, and he wants to freeze for a few years off of those high levels. It is less than 1 percent of spending over the next 10 years."

Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, on CNN's "State of the Union," called the budget "a down payment" on bringing down the deficit, which the Congressional Budget Office predicts will hit $1.5 trillion, or 9.8 percent of gross domestic product, in the 2011 fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

"We were on a path where the deficit was growing to over 10 percent of our economy," Lew said. The president "has put forward a plan that will bring it down by the middle of the decade to a sustainable level."

He said the budget tries to strike a balance between ]spending cuts and new investment in programs to shore up "competitiveness" and create jobs.

The proposal will also call for raising taxes, including a repeal of $46.2 billion in subsidies for oil, natural gas and coal companies over the next 10 years. That money would go to finance renewable energy development.

The budget also would offset the cost of a two-year patch for the alternative minimum tax, which threatens to hit middle-income taxpayers, by limiting the value of itemized deductions such as charitable contributions and mortgage interest for wealthy households.

Another proposal would cover higher Medicare payments to doctors by cutting $62 billion from other areas of federal health spending.

"Last year he gave us a $2 trillion tax increase," Ryan said. "He got $700 billion of those tax increases enacted mostly through his health care law. It looks like he is coming back for another [roughly] $1.3 trillion."


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Humberto Sanchez is a staff writer (appropriations and budget issues) for National Journal.

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