Obama calls for spending increase
Calls on Congress to toss out sequester cuts
WASHINGTON – Declaring an end to “mindless austerity,” President Barack Obama called for a surge in government spending Thursday, and asked Congress to throw out the sweeping budget cuts both parties agreed to four years ago when deficits were spiraling out of control.
Obama’s proposed $74 billion in added spending – about 7 percent – would be split about evenly between defense programs and the domestic side of the budget. Although he’s sought before to reverse the sequester spending cuts, Obama’s pitch in this year’s budget comes with the added oomph of an improving economy and big recent declines in federal deficits.
Obama vowed not to stand on the sidelines as he laid out his opening offer to Congress during remarks in Philadelphia, where House Democrats were gathered for their annual retreat.
“We need to stand up and go on offensive and not be defensive about what we believe in,” Obama said. Mocking Republicans for their leaders’ newfound interest in poverty and the middle class, he questioned whether they would back it up with substance when it mattered.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., chided the president for “abandoning spending discipline.”
Spokesman Josh Earnest was quick to concede, “No president has ever put forward a budget with the expectation that Congress is going to pass it in its current form.”
Rather, the budget marks another opportunity for Obama to lay out his priorities. He will emphasize tax credits to help the middle class, free community-college education, and infrastructure spending, seeking to offset those with a fee on big banks and increases in the capital gains tax.
Republicans promise to produce a balanced budget blueprint this spring even as they worry about Pentagon spending.
GOP lawmakers are focused primarily on reversing restraints on military spending, while Democrats and Obama are seeking new domestic dollars for education, research, health care and infrastructure. Republicans argue that spending more in so many areas would undo the hard-fought reductions in the country’s annual deficit.
They also oppose many of the tax increases Obama has proposed to pay for the increased spending.
Neither party has tender feelings for the sequester, which cut bluntly across the entire federal budget and was originally designed more as a threat than as an actual spending plan. With the economy gaining steam while deficits decline, both parties have signaled they want to roll some of the cuts back. A bipartisan deal struck previously softened the blow by about a third for the 2014 and 2015 budget years.
Both parties are generally inclined to boost spending for the military, which is wrestling with threats from terrorism and extremist groups and has been strained by budget limits and two long wars.
“At what point do we, the institution and our nation, lose our soldiers’ trust?” asked Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, at a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Yet among congressional Republicans, there’s no unanimity about where more Pentagon funds should come from – a division Obama appeared eager to exploit.
Some House Republicans want to cut domestic agency budgets to free money for the military – an approach that failed badly for Republicans two years ago.
Some are eyeing cuts to mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare, while others want to ignore the spending restraints altogether.
Paying for it
The White House said Obama’s budget would be “fully paid for” by cutting inefficient programs and closing tax loopholes – particularly a trust fund provision the White House has been eyeing. Earnest said that and a few other tax tweaks would not only pay for Obama’s increased spending but also offset middle-class tax cuts the president wants to create or expand.
At the Pentagon, Obama’s increases would help pay for next-generation F-35 fighter jets, for ships and submarines and for long-range Air Force tankers. On the domestic side, Obama has proposed two free years of community college and new or expanded tax credits for child care and spouses who both work.
The Washington Post contributed to this story.