Deficit Numbers Worry Many Lawmakers

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal deficit over the next 10 years will be more than $2 trillion higher than President Obama forecast. Republicans and some Democrats see a fiscal calamity on the horizon.

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On Capitol Hill today, the headline story is red ink, an ocean of it. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released new estimates, and they predict that President Obama's budget would rack up trillions and trillions of dollars in debt over the next decade.

That's bad news for the White House, as it tries to convince lawmakers to pass Mr. Obama's proposals. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: If President Obama were to get everything he wanted from Congress, healthcare reform and new spending on energy independence and education, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the government would accumulate $9.3 trillion in new debt over the next decade.

That's a couple trillion more than the White House estimated its plans would cost, and that's important because the lawmakers in Congress who actually write the budget don't go by the White House numbers. They go by CBO's.

Representative JOHN SPRATT (Democrat, South Carolina): The stark reality is that these deficits will be with us, overhanging the budget, for some years to come.

SEABROOK: South Carolina Congressman John Spratt is the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He conceded today that these new numbers will make it even more difficult to get President Obama's proposals through Congress.

Rep. SPRATT: We may look back one day and say yes, this was more than the traffic could bear at that point in time. But the president feels he has a mandate, he has momentum right now and that he should put these major ideas forth and not flinch, see how far he can get.

SEABROOK: This year's deficit is projected to be more than $1.8 trillion. Leading Democrats had expected the number to be as big as $2 trillion, and the deficits will continue for years to come.

Today, Spratt and the White House were adamant that Mr. Obama's budget would cut those annual deficits in half within four years.

Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): That's a fraud. It's an outrage that they would make that type of a statement and claim it as fiscally responsible.

SEABROOK: This is the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Judd Gregg. You may remember that the New Hampshire senator was Obama's pick to be commerce secretary before Gregg decided his ideological differences were too great to work within this administration.

Well, those differences were clear today. Gregg called the new budget numbers staggering and devastating. He said the president should pull back on his legislative priorities.

Sen. GREGG: It's not going to do any good for them to spend all the money on these programs if the country goes bankrupt. So as a practical matter, they need to adjust their sails and figure out a better way to do it.

SEABROOK: So far, that does not appear to be the administration's plan. In the White House press room today, Spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked again and again if the administration is worried it's losing the political will to get its budget through Congress. Gibbs said no.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Spokesman): The president remains confident that he has put forward a budget that meets the critical investments that he thinks America must be making in order to move past the bubble-and-bust economic era into some sustained economic growth while cutting that deficit in half in four years. The president remains confident that he can do so.

SEABROOK: One last note on the new numbers today. In order to predict what the federal budget will look like for the coming years, the CBO has to predict what the overall economy will look like.

In the report, economists say they believe the current recession will end by the close of this year with help from the federal stimulus money and aggressive action by the Fed and the Treasury. It expects the gross domestic product to fall by another 1.5 percent this year before growing again at the rate of 4.1 percent for 2010 and 2011. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, The Capitol.

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