J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama feels he has struck just the right budget balance between providing more short-term support for the economy while putting forth a long-term plan to get control of the government's soaring budget deficits.
Republicans vehemently disagree, attacking his 2013 budget as a replay of the failed economic policies they say have resulted in an economy growing at subpar rates and government debt soaring to record highs.
Both parties would agree that Obama's latest budget, released Monday, will feature heavily as a debating point in the November elections to determine who will win the White House and whether Democrats or Republicans win control of the House and Senate.
Republican Mitt Romney, who is campaigning for the GOP nomination to challenge Obama in the fall, called the budget Obama released Monday "an insult to the American taxpayer." GOP candidates Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are all advocating bigger spending cuts to control the deficits, and all the GOP candidates oppose Obama's tax increases.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the administration's chief economic spokesman, was scheduled to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday in what will be the first of four congressional appearances this week by Geithner to explain and defend Obama's budget plan.
Judging from the GOP reaction Monday, Geithner could be in for some sharp questioning.
"The president's budget is a gloomy reflection of his failed policies of the past, not a bold plan for America's future," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "The president offered a collection of rehashes, gimmicks and tax increases that will make our economy worse."
Democrats in Congress were for the most part supportive of the president's proposals. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said Republicans forget that Obama inherited an economic mess when he took office, with the economy struggling to emerge from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.
"The reality is that the president inherited a fiscal and economic disaster," Conrad said Monday. "The only true way forward is through a comprehensive and balanced deficit-reduction agreement. We need to come together on a plan that modernizes our tax system, reforms our entitlement programs and attacks wasteful spending."
Republicans are arguing for deeper spending cuts and a frontal assault on the biggest drivers of the deficit, the soaring costs of Medicare and Medicaid, whose already sizable costs are projected to double in future years as baby boomers retire.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Monday that he expected the Republican-controlled House would in coming weeks pass an alternative to the Obama budget that would gain control of the deficit, not by raising taxes but by curtailing Medicare and Medicaid.
"President Obama's irresponsible budget is a recipe for a debt crisis and the decline of America," Ryan said.
Obama's cuts in Medicare and Medicaid avoid cuts in benefits and instead make modest trims in payments to health care providers. In contrast, the Republican House last year approved Ryan's plan, which would essentially transform Medicare into a voucher system in which future seniors would get a fixed amount to buy medical insurance.
The Obama budget proposes spending $3.8 trillion in the 2013 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. It would achieve $4 trillion in deficit cuts in part through restraining the growth of many government programs, adhering to the agreement Congress approved in August for spending caps to achieve $900 billion in deficit reduction over a decade.
Obama's plan also proposes additional deficit reduction in order to avoid $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts scheduled to take effect next January.
But the president relies on $1.5 trillion in tax increases, mainly by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire on families making more than $250,000 per year, imposing additional taxes on those making more than $1 million per year and eliminating various corporate tax breaks.
The tax increases all have been rejected by Republicans.
With both parties holding entrenched positions, it is very likely that no solution will be found before the November elections, with both sides preferring to use the debate to score political points.
If that occurs, Congress will probably be back in Washington after the November elections for a lame-duck session to resolve the battle over taxes and spending cuts.
Lawmakers are facing end-of-the-year deadlines when the Bush-era tax cuts on all taxpayers expire and across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect if lawmakers can't agree on $1.2 trillion in further deficit reduction over the next decade.
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