GOP Claims Obama's Budget Is DOA: Debt On Arrival
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Obama's proposal for next year's budget got delivered to Congress on Valentine's Day but it did not capture many hearts there. Republicans dismissed the document as DOA - Debt on Arrival. Democrats said little about the spending blueprint, though some were taken aback by its sharp cuts in social spending.
As NPR's David Welna reports, the budget touched off a spat on spending that's bound to get louder in the coming weeks.
DAVID WELNA: President Obama's budget amounts to the opening salvo in a political prizefight over how much federal spending should be reined in this year - and next. As he talked that budget up yesterday at a Baltimore middle school, Mr. Obama called it a down-payment - not only on cutting deficits but also on investing in the future and on education in particular.
President BARACK OBAMA: While we are absolutely committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to find further savings and to look at the whole range of budget issues, we can't sacrifice our future in the process.
WELNA: The president said his plan would reduce projected deficits over the next decade by more than a trillion dollars. But as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted, trillions more dollars in deficits would still be added during that period. He called the budget the clearest sign yet that Mr. Obama does not take the nation's fiscal problems seriously.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): It's a patronizing plan that says to the American people that their concerns are not his concerns. It's a plan that says fulfilling the president's vision of a future of trains and windmills is more important than a balanced checkbook.
WELNA: Paul Ryan, the Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, faulted the budget for not included the recommendations the president's fiscal commission had made on reducing entitlement spending for Social Security and Medicare.
Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): The president, in suggesting the fiscal commission, gave people like me the idea that we're going to move the ball in the right direction, that that was a constructive step in the right direction. This is a punt. This doesn't even include any of the significant recommendations from the fiscal commission.
WELNA: As a member of that commission, Ryan himself voted against its recommendations, and he refused to say whether entitlement spending will be curbed in in the budget House Republicans draw up.
Jeff Sessions is the top Republican on the Senate budget panel. He made clear his party does not want to go first in suggesting how ever-greater Social Security and Medicare spending should be reined in.
Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): Now we are faced with taking on something as complex as entitlements, as deeply emotional as entitlements, and the president of the United States is not even in the game? Doesn't even suggest it has to be done?
WELNA: On the Senate floor, Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich insisted that sorting out the budget mess was a shared responsibility.
Senator MARK BEGICH (Democrat, Alaska): It is a combination of all of us that will create leadership. It's not one person, it's not one president. It's Republicans and Democrats and independents sitting on this floor making tough decisions, not a bunch of political speeches.
WELNA: Other prominent Democrats remained noticeably silent about the budget. Among them were the Senate's majority leader, Harry Reid, and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad. An exception was the Senate's number two Democrats, Dick Durbin.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I think there's an acknowledgment by all Democrats that we have to cut spending, that the deficit is a serious challenge and we've got to face it. And painful things will follow. Many of these budget cuts are going to hurt. They're going to hurt vulnerable people and a lot of us are troubled by it. But if we don't deal with this, the situation will get much worse.
WELNA: Fearing a budget impasse, Durbin is part of a bipartisan group of half a dozen senators trying to come up with a grand bargain Congress might approve. But former Budget Committee staffer Stan Collander of Qorvis Communications says it's not really next year's budget that matters.
Mr. STAN COLLANDER (Qorvis Communications): Remember, the Constitution doesn't say anything about Congress and the president agreeing to a budget. It says they must agree to funding bills - that is, appropriations bills.
WELNA: And if Congress and the president can't agree on a new stop-gap funding bill for the current fiscal year, Collander says it could lead to a government shutdown early next month.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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