Obama Adds Up The Tab For His Plans

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President Obama laid out his goals for this year and the years to come in his State of the Union address last week. Now he's preparing to lay out how to pay for his agenda. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR News Analyst Juan Williams about President Obama's budget proposal, which the president submits to Congress on Monday.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

President Obama laid out his goals for this year and the years to come in his State of the Union address last week. Now he's preparing to lay out how to pay for his agenda. The president will submit his budget request to Congress tomorrow, and with us to talk about it is NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: What do you see as the contentious issues in the budget? In other words, which proposals do you think he'll get the most pushback on from either party?

WILLIAMS: Well, the big argument is about the spending freeze. The spending freeze would affect about 17 percent of this budget. But, you know, 17 percent, that's about $450 billion out of a $3.5 trillion budget. And so the impact really falls on what the president calls discretionary spending. So that's everything that's not military, everything that's not Medicare or Medicaid -the entitlements.

And there's lots of pushback, surprisingly, coming from the left that says in a time of economic difficulty the government needs to invest in spending and that President Obama is simply echoing a Republican point of view that would have it said that the problem is discretionary spending as opposed to some of these entitlements and military spending, which have been, of course, the primary source of budget increases over the years.

HANSEN: Are both sides of the aisle on board with the president's proposed three-year federal spending freeze on these domestic programs?

WILLIAMS: You know what? If you talk to the Republicans right now, they are debating whether or not they want to join in. Although a member, Senator John McCain, formerly President Obama's rival for the presidency, had proposed just this idea, and President Bush had enforced it during the last few years of his presidency.

But Republicans right now are wondering if things such as - included in the budget - a small business tax cut really are effective at this point in terms of advancing hiring. And so they have to take a very careful position there, but it's fully articulated yet.

HANSEN: President Obama's reportedly factoring in cap and trade revenue into his budget, but the members of the Senate say it's unlikely that a comprehensive cap and trade climate law will pass this year, so the president must be aware of this. So, what's his strategy?

WILLIAMS: Put pressure on the Republicans. Put pressure on the Senate. Make it clear that part of restraining not only federal budget costs, but also in terms of business costs in the United States. That having an effective cap and trade program in place would help to limit spending in this country. And so that's part of a political argument that's going to be quite clear when you look at the budget, because the budget just doesn't add up if you take out that cap and trade proposal.

HANSEN: There was an opinion piece on The Wall Street Journal's Web site Thursday. Vice President Biden said the president's budget proposal will include $7 billion to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, and that's a $600 million increase over last year. How's that going to play out among members of his own party, and do you think the White House is pushing defense in hopes of getting something in exchange from the Republicans?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that's exactly right, Liane. I think that's the right analysis there. That, you see, not only it's interesting, it's not only nuclear weapons stockpiles, but even in the State of the Union talking about advancing nuclear energy production in this country.

President Obama taxed right at times. And the hope there is that he will, one, impress the American people with his dedication to defense, that he's not weak on defense - the common complaint about left-leaning democratic senators and presidents, but that also that he will make it clear that what he intends to do here is to boost the notion of U.S. independent energy sources. So that's another part of the calculus.

HANSEN: Well, President Obama went to the House Republican retreat on Friday, which is pretty unusual. But do you think he managed to advance his cause at all?

WILLIAMS: Well, no. Coming out of it, I think what he managed to do was to advance the cause in terms of independent voters believing that he is doing outreach to Republicans, that he is making an effort to be bipartisan. If you're asking did he advance his cause with Republicans? That's where I think I don't know that he made much in the way of inroads.

He had some very spirited arguments. It got on TV, all over NPR. But the question is, do I think that he, for example, got any more votes for health care, do I think he got any more votes for his budget? No.

HANSEN: NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Juan, thank you very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Liane.

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