Analysis: Is President Obama's proposal a budget plan or a campaign document?

Republican senators, from left, David Vitter, Jeff Sessions, Ron Johnson, and John Barrasso prepare for a news conference Monday on Capitol Hill to voice their opposition to President Barack Obama’s 
$3.8 trillion budget proposal.

Associated Press

Republican senators, from left, David Vitter, Jeff Sessions, Ron Johnson, and John Barrasso prepare for a news conference Monday on Capitol Hill to voice their opposition to President Barack Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget proposal.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's new budget lays down the political themes he will pound as he campaigns for re-election — more spending on jobs and higher taxes for the wealthy. It sets him apart from the Republican contenders and gives Democrats a platform to run on.

And a target for GOP candidates to shoot at.

In his $3.8 trillion spending plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, Obama levels direct criticism at Republicans. Though nobody is expecting the budget to be embraced by Congress, that's still an unusual negotiating tactic in a usually dry document. It highlights the elevated stakes.

"Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress blocked both our deficit reduction measures and almost every part of the American Jobs Act for the simple reason that they were unwilling to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share," Obama said.

It was a reference to a legislative plan that Obama proposed in September and that Congress ignored. Many of its features are incorporated into his new budget.

Much of the presidential spending outline, in fact, plays to Obama's election-year agenda, a strategy not lost on Republicans.

"This proposal isn't really a budget at all. It's a campaign document," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Obama's budget blueprint showcases the major priorities of his presidency, ones that contrast sharply with Republicans' near-solid opposition to tax increases and advocacy for deep spending cuts, including in popular benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicare.

The president seeks to achieve about $4 trillion in deficit-reduction over the next decade, with $1.5 trillion of it coming from higher taxes — both by going after wealthy individuals and by closing some corporate loopholes.

Obama's budget does claim $360 billion in savings over the next decade in Medicare and Medicaid programs, but he proposes to do it with relatively modest changes. White House officials defended the cuts to so-called entitlement programs.

"I think we're taking a serious pass at deficit reduction, on the entitlement side and overall," said acting budget director Jeffrey Zients.

Obama would let Bush-era tax cuts expire for households making over $250,000 a year and also raise taxes on stock dividends for the highest income Americans. And he would institute a new minimum tax of at least 30 percent for those earning over $1 million a year.

With such calls, Obama is seeking to rally middle-class support and capitalize on recent polls that show most Americans believe the rich aren't paying enough taxes.

"We don't begrudge success in America," Obama said Monday. "We do expect everybody to do their fair share, so that everybody has opportunity, not just some."

The strategy could be especially relevant if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is Obama's Republican opponent.

Romney, one of the wealthiest Americans ever to run for president, created an uproar with the disclosure that he paid taxes at the relatively low rate of 14 percent last year, mostly because most of his income was from investments, which are taxed at a lower rate than wages.

Romney called Obama's budget, with its higher taxes and spending increases "an insult to the American taxpayer."

Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania all would allow the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 to remain in place for all wage earners no matter how wealthy.

Analysis: Is President Obama's proposal a budget plan or a campaign document? 02/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 7:42am]

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