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Obama says $17 billion in U.S. cuts will make dent

WASHINGTON — Repeatedly since taking office, President Barack Obama has said his administration was combing through the federal budget "line by line" to root out wasteful spending.

Finding it is one thing; getting Congress to sign on is another. By Republican accounts, he hasn't found that much anyway.

Obama sent Congress a detailed budget Thursday proposing to eliminate or trim 121 programs and save $17 billion next year — not a trifle, for sure, but only about half of 1 percent of the $1.3 trillion in federal spending for the fiscal year beginning in October.

The size of the savings clearly was a sore subject at the White House.

"It is important … for all of you, as you're writing up these stories, to recognize that $17 billion taken out of our discretionary, nondefense budget, as well as portions of our defense budget, are significant," Obama said. "They mean something."

Still, Obama's hit list was smaller than the one President George W. Bush included in his budget last year targeting 151 programs for $34 billion in savings.

Bush didn't have much luck in getting those cuts through the Democrat-controlled Congress. Obama may run into some of the same difficulties.

"None of this will be easy," Obama said at the White House.

Even with the cuts, the White House estimates the government's red ink will still be $1.2 trillion, down only slightly from this year's record.

Republicans scoffed that Obama's cuts were not nearly enough. "They appear to be a diversionary tactic — an effort to change the subject away from the unprecedented debt this budget heaps on future generations," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

The president defended the cuts, which he portrayed as a mix of some "more painful than others."

"In Washington, I guess that's considered trivial. Outside of Washington, that's still considered a lot of money," he said. "But these savings, large and small, add up."

In more than 1,500 pages, Obama sought to flesh out the bare-bones budget outline he submitted in February shortly after taking office. Both the House and Senate last week approved a $3.4 trillion budget blueprint reflecting most of Obama's priorities and clearing the way for new spending on health care, energy and education. More details are due from the White House next week.

Fellow Democrats may reject some revisions, including Obama's proposal to stop paying states and counties that keep illegal immigrants in their jails.

Despite redoubling its efforts to portray itself as tough on waste and spending, the administration and Congress have taken the nation on a steady course of higher federal spending. In rapid succession has come passage of a $787 billion economic recovery bill, a $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill and Congress' $3.4 trillion budget for next year, which calls for increases of almost 10 percent over current funding for non-defense agency budgets.

Obama said that Americans are tightening their belts in difficult times and want to know if Washington "is prepared to act with the same sense of responsibility."

"I believe we can and must do exactly that," he said.

Budget highlights

Here's a sampling of the president's budget proposals.

Teachers: Adds $2 billion to merit-based teacher pay to help failing schools turn around. Adds $370 million for a successor to the Reading First literacy program, a key element of the No Child Left Behind Law.

Nutrition: Increases child nutrition programs by $1 billion.

Housing: Sets up a $1 billion program to develop or rehabilitate housing for the poor.

Labor: Adds money for the Labor Department to hire about 1,000 employees, including 670 investigators and other workers to enforce safety, health, minimum wage, overtime and other laws.

Oil and gas: Rescinds tax breaks at a cost to the industry of $26 billion over the next 10 years.

Air fares: Adds $3 to air fare taxes starting in 2012, which would raise the maximum fee from $5 to $11 per trip to fund airport security screening.

Police: Slashes almost in half a $110 million benefits program for the families of slain police and safety officers.

Abstinence-only: Cuts that education program and spends $38 million for programs that don't take an abstinence-only approach.

Flu: Seeks $584 million for pandemic flu preparations, atop the $1.5 billion requested when the swine flu first emerged.

Food safety: Seeks a nearly 20 percent increase — the biggest boost ever — in the budget of the Food and Drug Administration, partly to put 325 more food inspectors in the field.

Jailed immigrants: Ends a program that reimburses states and counties for jailers' salaries for holding illegal immigrants who have at least one felony and two misdemeanor convictions, freeing up $400 million for border security and immigration enforcement.

Obama says $17 billion in U.S. cuts will make dent 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 9:41pm]
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