Selling The Budget: It's About Restraint

President Obama's FY-2011 budget proposal may carry a "record" deficit, as various outlets are reporting (more on that here), but as Obama explained it to the public, it's all about the spending cuts.

Obama rolled out his budget in a news conference at the White House this morning, and what we saw was Obama's tone of fiscal restraint--which he has showcased since Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts--in full effect. That, and reminders that he inherited the fiscal situation from his predecessor.

"The fact is, 10 years ago, we had a budget surplus of more than $200 billion, with projected surpluses stretching out toward the horizon.  Yet over the course of the past 10 years, the previous administration and previous Congresses created an expensive new drug program, passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and funded two wars without paying for any of it -- all of which was compounded by recession and by rising health care costs.  As a result, when I first walked through the door, the deficit stood at $1.3 trillion, with projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade," Obama said, according to his prepared remarks as disseminated by the White House.

After listing some spending increases--such as a 6 percent increase for the Dept. of Education--Obama sounded a bit like a Republican as he attacked waste.

"We have gone through every department's spending line by line, item by item, looking for inefficiency, duplication, and programs that have outlived their usefulness...Last year, we found $17 billion in cuts.  This year, we've already found $20 billion," Obama said.

"One example is the $2.5 billion that we're spending to build C-17 transport aircraft.  Four years ago, the Defense Department decided to cease production because it had acquired the number requested -- 180.  Yet every year since, Congress had provided unrequested money for more C-17s that the Pentagon doesn't want or need.  It's waste, pure and simple," the president said.

He called on Republicans to support a deficit-reduction commission and pay-as-you-go rules in the Senate--both of which they voted against--and preemptively admonished them for any grandstanding. He compared government to belt-tightening American families, and said it's time to "live within our means once again."

Obama's budget proposal includes some recovery initiatives--CNN reports that it counts $53 billion in tax cuts and $50 billion in job-creating measures, plus $30 billion in small business tax cuts--plus some other spending hikes, like $17 billion more for Pell grants.

Government spending is the chief complaint that drives conservative criticism, and it figures to be a major campaign talking point for Republican candidates in the 2010 midterms. By generally championing fiscal belt-tightening, the White House is fighting that narrative about the stimulus and spending.