Obama To Unveil Spending Plan for 2010

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President Obama unveils his budget blueprint for 2010 on Thursday. The plan calls for spending more than $600 billion to restructure health care over the next 10 years. It also would raise taxes on couples making more than $250,000 a year. The budget's release comes as the administration races to spend the first money from the economic stimulus package.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama sends his first budget to Congress today. It's a blue print that lays out the administration's plans for health care, education and clean energy. Speaking a few minutes ago, Mr. Obama said his budget is, quote, "an honest accounting of where we are and where we intend to go."

President BARACK OBAMA: We need to be honest with ourselves about what costs are being racked up, because that's how we'll come to grips with the hard choices that lie ahead.

MONTAGNE: The release of the budget comes as the administration is racing to spend the first money from the new economic stimulus bill. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: There's been a certain amount of slight of hand in recent White House budgets. Spending on the Iraq War, for example, was left out, while revenue from the Alternative Minimum Tax was left in, even though Congress regularly suspended that tax on all but the wealthiest families.

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs says today's budget will not rely on those kinds of gimmicks, even though the result will be a deficit that looks a lot bigger.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Spokesman): One of the important principles that's contained in this budget document is a transparent and honest budgeting and an end to some of the Enron accounting that we've seen over the past few years.

HORSLEY: Transparency is also the watch word as the government begins distributing the first funds from the $787 billion economic stimulus package. White House Budget Director Peter Orszag says a new government Web site, recovery.gov, that tracks those dollars is already getting thousands of hits from taxpayers who want to know how the money will be spent.

Mr. PETER ORSZAG (Director, Office of Management and Budget): We are asking the taxpayers for their help in getting the economy out of this recession, and in exchange they deserve accountability and transparency.

HORSLEY: Orszag says in order to get the most bang for the buck, the stimulus money must be spent both quickly and wisely. But Steve Ellis of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says those twin goals are often at odds, as any impulse shopper knows.

Mr. STEVE ELLIS (Taxpayers for Common Sense): You can quickly spend a few thousand dollars on a television set, but you have to do a little bit of research to make sure that it's a good set and it's exactly what you want and comparison shop if you want to save a little bit of money and get a better product. And that's going to be exactly the challenge for the government in trying to spend the stimulus.

HORSLEY: President Obama has appointed an ex-cop and former Secret Service agent named Earl Devaney to keep an eye on all that spending. Devaney has been inspector general at the Interior Department, where he helped to uncover the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Ellis says Devaney, who's built like a linebacker, has a great reputation among Washington watchdogs.

Mr. ELLIS: He's a big guy, and he's got a big task ahead of him. If you think about it, if even there's 1 percent of waste in the stimulus, you're talking about nearly $8 billion that goes down the drain.

HORSLEY: Devaney met yesterday with Cabinet secretaries and Vice President Biden, who's also expected to ride herd on the stimulus money. Biden warned agency heads he's going to be a pain in the neck in the months to come, demanding weekly reports and insisting that they follow the money.

Vice President JOE BIDEN: I don't want to hear that we've sent money out to renovate a school in a particular city in a particular state. I don't want to get a phone call saying, you know, it's been sitting there and nothing's happened for three weeks.

HORSLEY: Administration officials say their goal is to prevent stimulus money from being wasted, not just detect waste after the fact.

Preventing problems is also President Obama's goal, as he calls for an update of financial regulations. Mr. Obama said yesterday closing gaps in regulation would help the government to head off crises in financial markets, not just react to them. He said the U.S. can no longer manage its 21st century marketplace with rules that were crafted in the 1900s.

Pres. OBAMA: While free markets are the key to our progress, they do not give us free license to take whatever we can get, however we can get it.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama met with key Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate yesterday. He's calling on them to update financial regulations within the coming weeks.

Pres. OBAMA: Strong financial markets require clear rules of the road, not to hinder financial institutions but to protect consumers and investors and ultimately to keep those financial institutions strong.

HORSLEY: With the world's major economic powers set to gather in London in April, the president also said the U.S. should challenge other countries to update their financial rules.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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