Obama Sends Congress His Budget
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, President Obama's plans for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
BRAND: But first, the president sent his budget to Congress today with these words.
(Soundbite of speech, February 26, 2009)
President BARACK OBAMA: The budget is more than simply numbers on a page. It is a measure of how well we are living up to our obligations to ourselves and one another. It is a test for our commitment to making America what it was always meant to be: a place where all things are possible for all people.
BRAND: The outlines of this budget show an effort by the president to honor many of his campaign promises. NPR's David Welna is on Capitol Hill and has more. And David, heath care is the headline from this budget, right?
DAVID WELNA: Right, Madeleine. Health care is really the linchpin of this budget in that everything else in it depends on getting handle on exploding health-care costs. But instead of laying out a detailed plan for whittling down those costs while expanding health coverage, President Obama wants a 10-year reserve fund of $635 billion to help underwrite such transformation, since it will likely cost closer to a trillion dollars over that time. And by doing that, he avoids policy fights in Congress right off the bat, and such a fund also makes it harder to argue, as Republicans certainly will, that the nation simply can't afford a health-care overhaul in these tough times. You know, this is a budget that also gives high priority to making higher education more accessible, another campaign promise. And that fits in with Mr. Obama's argument that making these kinds of investments in human capital will pay off in the longer run by making the U.S. workforce more competitive in the global economy.
BRAND: So, with the health care, though, he doesn't provide details, but there are some broad outlines of how he'd pay for it, right?
WELNA: Yes. There is a plan to pay for it by, one, reducing the premiums paid to insurance companies that participate in Medicare and also by reducing the value of itemized deductions that the highest income earners - those making more than a quarter million dollars - can take.
BRAND: And there's also a plan for the environment, involving cap and trade, right?
WELNA: Yes, he honors another campaign pledge in this budget, both by spending $15 billion a year over the next decade to develop sustainable energy sources and to have this cap-and-trade system where industries would have to pay to pollute, and the income from that would go to help pay for his making-work-pay tax cut, which he's already proposed.
BRAND: Mm-hmm. And that would be for families earning less than $150,000?
WELNA: Yes. It would be $800 for families with double incomes of $150,000, yes.
BRAND: So, David, listening to the president today, what did you glean as his grand aim, his overarching goal, with this budget?
WELNA: Well, I think its overall aim is to transform a society where wealth has increasingly been concentrated at the top into one where those at the top who make more than a quarter million dollars a year are going to have to fork over a lot more in taxes to help pay for things like universal health-care coverage, revamped energy programs and improved education. It's really kind of a New Deal without quite claiming to be one. One other big feature of this budget is that those who wrote it say it's more honest about spending and revenues than were the budgets submitted President Bush. It actually includes the projected costs of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it does not count on big revenues from the Alternative Minimum Tax, which only the very wealthiest pay since Congress makes the AMT go away every year for most households who would otherwise have to pay for it. The budget that he proposes contemplates the deficit right now of more than a trillion dollars that he inherited being cut in half by the end of his first four years in office.
BRAND: Thank you, NPR's David Welna at the Capitol.
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