It’s only by coincidence that President Obama’s federal budget for FY 2012 arrives on congressional desks on Valentine’s Day – a weighty tome far heavier than a box of chocolates.
It’s more challenge than gift, though, especially now that the tea party-tinged House is run by Republicans. They’re already ripping through the contents, pronouncing them unacceptable.
Obama’s budget, House Speaker John Boehner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, “will continue to destroy jobs by spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much.”
“Borrowing and spending is not the way to prosperity,” Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The plan is “very small on spending discipline,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “Presidents are elected to lead, not to punt. And this president has been punting.”
That’s certainly not the way the White House sees it.
“After a decade of rising deficits, this budget asks Washington to live within its means, while at the same time investing in our future,” Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday.
“It’s not possible to do this painlessly,” White House budget director Jacob Lew said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “We have a responsible budget that will cut in half the deficit by the end of the president’s first term.”
Some of the highlights reported so far:
According to an Office of Management and Budget summary obtained by the Associated Press, the administration will propose more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade with two-thirds of that amount coming from spending cuts.
Some $400 billion in savings would come from a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending. Still, that covers just 10 percent of the overall federal budget, leaving out most defense spending and major entitlements.
Following the lead of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Obama’s budget includes $78 billion in Pentagon savings. Pentagon cuts would include the C-17 aircraft, the alternate engine to the Joint Strike Fighter, and the Marine Expeditionary Vehicle that the Defense Department says it does not need, according to the Reuters news agency.
One-third of the savings would come from tax revenues, including by closing several tax loopholes and capping itemized deductions.
There are cuts to some programs particularly close to Democrats’ hearts – Pell Grants for low-income college students, community development block grants, and low-income heating assistance.
Some of the new House Republican members, propelled into office with tea party backing, seem ready if not eager to force even more belt-tightening on the Pentagon – traditionally a place safe from budget cutting.
That’s unsettling to some GOP old-timers, including Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona.
“We’re going to have to make a lot of reforms … but at the same time we are in two wars,” McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I hope that some of my new colleagues on the other side of the Capitol understand that we’ve got to be very careful with cuts in defense spending.”
While the spending freeze highlights Obama’s budget for FY 2012, Republicans want to start cutting right now – including the budget that covers the last seven months of FY 2011. Without a “continuing resolution” providing funds for this year (Obama’s 2011 budget was never passed into law) the government could shut down March 4.
Boehner: More cuts coming
“Once we cut the discretionary accounts, then we’ll get into the mandatory spending,” Boehner told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday. “And then you’ll see more cuts.”
Originally, House GOP leaders planned for about $32 billion in spending cuts for the rest of 2011. But under pressure from fiscal conservatives – including many new freshmen – they upped that to $61 billion, allowing them to claim $100 billion in saving from what Obama had wanted to spend for the year.
The Sunday talk show palaver and the documents thumping down on congressional desks Monday are just the start of the annual federal budget ritual.
“The president talks like someone who recognizes that spending is out of control, but so far it hasn’t been matched with action,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said in a statement Sunday. “Americans don’t want a spending freeze at unsustainable levels. They want cuts, dramatic cuts. And I hope the president will work with us on achieving them soon.”