Congress Reacts To Obama's Proposed Budget

President Obama's budget fell on Capitol Hill with a hard thud. In these cash-strapped times, just about everyone agrees some budget-cutting is needed, so few lawmakers are standing up to cheer for his spending plan. Generally though, Democrats agreed with its priorities, and Republicans, especially those in charge of the House, did not.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And now to some reaction from those Republicans in the House and others on Capitol Hill, where the budget landed with a hard thud.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook has our report.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Republicans came roaring into Congress, ready to slash budgets and squeeze down the size of government. So to Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, Republicans didn't get what they wanted from the president's budget.

NORRIS: We got a punt. The president punted on the budget, and he punted on the deficit and on the debt.

SEABROOK: The cuts President Obama proposes, even to democratically sponsored programs, were barely acknowledged by Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner said on NBC yesterday...

NORRIS: The president wants to freeze domestic discretionary spending at existing levels. This is after all of the money that's been spent over the last two years. Locking in that level of spending is way too much.

SEABROOK: Republicans say their plan will cut much deeper and faster. And that's borne out by their plan for this year, which slashes funds to programs from agriculture to disease control to local police.

Democrats, on the other hand, said President Obama's budget achieved something very difficult right now - balance. It freezes and cuts spending, but continues to support and invest in what minority leader Nancy Pelosi called our national priorities.

NORRIS: It'll create jobs through investing in innovation, education, and building America an infrastructure. So it's about long-term stability for our economy.

SEABROOK: At a pep rally with steel workers last week, Pelosi said Democrats will fight cuts in education, job training, and other programs she said will help America grow its way out of deficits.

NORRIS: And we fool ourselves if we think that by cutting something, we're reducing the deficit. In fact, we may be adding to the deficit if we're cutting jobs and (unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SEABROOK: So reaction to the president's budget today was pretty predictable. Democrats liked it, called it sensible. Republicans hated it, said it was irresponsible. What about moderates, you might ask, the vast - and vastly ignored - American middle? For that perspective, we go outside of Congress.

NORRIS: I think it's a pretty courageous first step.

SEABROOK: Jim Kessler is a co-founder of the moderate think tank called Third Way. He said President Obama's budget...

NORRIS: Takes on a lot of Democratic programs and sacred cows. And, you know, he's not shy at going after things that would anger some activists. And I think he deserves a lot of credit for it. But it's mostly focused on discretionary spending.

SEABROOK: Discretionary spending is what's left after the government automatically pays out Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. And not tackling those, says Kessler, is like trying to lose weight by dieting only on the weekends.

Now, if you're like so many who are exhausted by the bickering and caustic partisanship of Washington, let me offer this comfort. The people who built our government had just escaped an autocratic regime. Any rash decision of the king could wreak sweeping change on the people. So, says Kessler...

NORRIS: The Founding Fathers created a system of government that was designed to be inefficient, to check each other's impulses, to allow for a lot of argument, and to make sure that a lot of things did not get done.

SEABROOK: So good news: It's working.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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