Obama administration defends budget against early Republican attacks

Obama administration defends budget against early Republican attacks

The election-year budget battle ramped up Sunday, with both sides trading barbs over the honesty and effectiveness of President Obama's budget plan for 2013.

White House Chief of Staff Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewHogan urges Mnuchin to reconsider delay of Harriet Tubman bill Mnuchin says new Harriet Tubman bill delayed until 2028 Overnight Finance: US reaches deal with ZTE | Lawmakers look to block it | Trump blasts Macron, Trudeau ahead of G-7 | Mexico files WTO complaint MORE blanketed the Sunday talk shows to trumpet the president's plan as striking the proper balance between short-term stimulus and long-term deficit reduction. Republican leaders responded immediately with a very different assessment, hammering the proposal as just another product of a "tax-and-spend" administration lacking fiscal discipline.

ADVERTISEMENT

The bill itself is largely symbolic, as Congress almost always dismisses the White House budget in favor of its own spending plans. Still, such sweeping proposals are a good summary of a party's legislative priorities, and the budget is sure to play a major role on the campaign trail this year. 

Both sides think they have the upper hand in the coming debate, with Republicans hoping their focus on spending cuts resounds as loudly this year as it did in 2010, and Democrats banking that voters are more concerned with jobs and the preservation of government programs.

The White House is scheduled to issue their budget wish-list Monday morning, while House Republicans are expected to release their counter-proposal in late March.

Against that backdrop, Lew, Obama's former budget director, made the rounds Sunday to rally support for a budget he said will "build an economy that will last in the future."

"It'll make sure we have a manufacturing base; it'll make sure we have Americans with the skills we need for the future and we'll make sure we have an energy program that gives us independence," Lew told Fox News Sunday.

Consistent with Obama's election-year theme of "fairness," Lew emphasized that the plan asks for sacrifices from everyone, even the wealthiest Americans.

"Everybody has a fair shot, pays a fair share and plays by the same rules," he said.

Republicans wasted no time pushing back, with the office of Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.), chairman of the Budget Committee, accusing Lew of "failing … to articulate how their upcoming budget would lift the crushing burden of debt and tackle our nation’s most pressing challenges." 

"Instead, Lew confirmed reports of familiar ‘stimulus’ spending initiatives, recycled tax increases, and exploiting tired budget gimmicks," Ryan's office said.

Set for release Monday, Obama's budget will cut $3 trillion in deficit spending over the next decade, roughly split between new revenues and spending cuts, administration officials said Friday. On the revenue side, Obama will propose to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest Americans. In terms of cuts, $278 billion will target mandatory programs like farm subsidies and $360 billion will come from the healthcare sector, officials said.

Lew on Sunday argued that deficit savings are actually $4 trillion over the decade when you consider the $1 trillion in cuts included in the budget deal of last August.

"The goal was $4 trillion [and] this gets us to the goal. We can't keep moving the marker," Lew told Fox News. "The notion that $4 trillion in deficit reduction is not serious is a little bit hard to accept when Congress has been unable to even implement the $1 trillion of savings mandated by the budget agreement."

Under Obama's budget, deficit spending would be roughly $1.3 trillion in 2012, exposing the president to Republican criticisms that he failed make good on his 2009 pledge to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. Lew said the depth of the recession made it impossible to cut spending drastically without undermining the economic recovery.

"There was a deeper hole to dig out of than anyone could have envisioned in January of 2009," Lew said.

Lew also pushed back against criticisms that Obama's budget relies on "gimmicks" because it counts $850 billion in savings from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – a controversial accounting move because the expected drawdown of troops means the money would likely never be spent. He characterized the war savings as "very real."

"If we don't lower the caps that permit that spending, there will be a natural process of seeing military spending grow," Lew said. "I guarantee you that if we don't take the action that's been proposed, there will be leakage and that money will end up getting spent. If there's going to be discipline in the budget, you have to lower the amount of money that can be appropriated in that area."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey MORE (R-Ky.), meanwhile, skipped the chance Sunday to take shots at Obama's budget and directed his sights instead on Senate Democratic leaders, who don't plan to bring to the floor a budget bill of their own this year.

"Probably the only budget votes we'll have in the Senate … would be a House-passed budget and the president's budget," McConnell said on CBS's "Face the Nation." 

"So I'll have to offer the president's budget for him so he'll get a vote on it."