Obama unveils $4.1T election-year budget

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President Obama on Tuesday unveiled the last budget of his presidency, a $4.1 trillion plan that reflects his desire to set the agenda for his final months in office and beyond.

The proposal, Obama’s costliest to date, includes a litany of long-shot progressive ideas that have little chance of becoming law in the Republican-controlled Congress. Leaders of the House and Senate budget panels have already said they will not even give the document a hearing.

{mosads}Obama’s final budget is also a political document unveiled on the same day as the New Hampshire primary. The White House hopes it will fire up Democrats ahead of this fall’s pivotal elections.

But timing of the budget’s release means the it could receive little attention, highlighting the difficulty of breaking through in an election year.

“It’s easy to adopt the conventional wisdom that a president’s final budget will be ignored. I think the conventional wisdom is wrong,” a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday.

The 182-page wish list includes longtime goals such as cutting carbon pollution, universal preschool and criminal justice reform as well as billions of dollars in new investments in cybersecurity and clean energy.  

It would also step up the policing of Wall Street, with $1.8 billion to double the budgets of market watchdogs in the Securities and Exchange Commission, and create new grants to entice the 19 states that haven’t to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“The budget is a roadmap to a future that embodies America’s values and aspirations: a future of opportunity and security for all of our families; a rising standard of living; and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids,” Obama wrote in his budget message to Congress.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, dismissed the budget request as a nonstarter on Capitol Hill.

“This isn’t even a budget so much as it is a progressive manual for growing the federal government at the expense of hardworking Americans,” he said in a statement. “We need to tackle our fiscal problems before they tackle us.”

It’s the first budget blueprint from Obama after a deal with former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last fall that set him free of the painful caps on discretionary spending. Obama’s budget calls for an end the mandatory spending limits starting in 2018 while sticking to the discretionary caps for 2017.

Vowing to focus on “the decades to come,” Obama laid out a $150 billion boost in national “research and development” in areas from biomedical research to space exploration. The funding would be a 6 percent increase from 2016.

This year’s budget calls for the biggest commitments yet to strengthen cybersecurity and fight climate change, which Obama said would reflect “the kind of country we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren.”

Obama’s plans for “clean transportation infrastructure” alone would cost $320 billion, with another $11 billion in clean energy — an increase of more than 25 percent over last year’s proposal. The $19 billion requested for cybersecurity is a 35 percent jump from 2016.

The ambitious budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 would be paid for by about $550 billion worth of tax increases, as well as a tax of $10 per barrel of oil that is one of the proposal’s most controversial pieces. The oil tax is projected to bring in about $320 billion.

At the heart of Obama’s national security funding request is “destroying” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The administration proposes $11 billion to support both the Department of State and Department of Defense in countering the terrorist group while supporting “a political solution” to ending the Syrian civil war.

The budget would supply $59 billion for the overseas contingency operations war fund, a number virtually unchanged from last year that is certain to draw criticism from Republican lawmakers who have called for more funding. Over 10 years, that fund would be reduced by more than $600 billion.

Administration officials say the plan would cut the deficit by $2.9 trillion over the next decade, with $955 billion in savings coming from new taxes increases on the nation’s highest-earning individuals and closing loopholes. Other savings come from the president’s healthcare law — nearly all from changes to Medicare — and sweeping reform of the immigration system, which failed in Congress.

The administration would also save about $50 billion through massive cuts to the nation’s crop insurance program and the elimination of a half-dozen oil, coal and gas tax credits.   

Obama is also looking to boost his commitment abroad, with new spending to support the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Afghanistan’s military transition, Europe’s efforts to hold back Russian aggression, Central America’s migrant crisis and democracy in Africa.

A senior administration official said Tuesday the blueprint shows that Obama “isn’t going to shy away” from pushing bold proposals in his final 11 months in office.

While the official conceded many of the ideas will not be enacted this year, he said the budget is “laying the groundwork and putting out solutions for the long term.”

Obama will huddle with Democratic leaders in Congress Tuesday afternoon to rally support for his budget request and figure out how to present it to the public.

Major pillars of the administration’s budget, like the oil tax and a $1 billion initiative to accelerate cancer research, had already been announced.  

Although Republicans have essentially declared the plan dead on arrival, Congress can still advance certain parts it supports, including funding for cancer research, fighting opioid addiction and expanding the earned income tax credit to childless adults.

“This budget offers a range of proposals where there is bipartisan support for taking action,” the official said.

Several Republicans have pledged to support increases in biomedical research spending, and Ryan has said he would support an expansion of the earned income tax credit to encourage low-income Americans to seek jobs.

Obama and Boehner already agreed to a total of $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending as part of last fall’s deal, which also eliminated the across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, created by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

That two-year deal includes about $50 billion equally split between defense and domestic programs and $16 billion in an emergency war fund.

Still, a topline figure of $1.1 trillion poses challenges for Ryan, who is facing pressure from the GOP’s right flank to drive a harder bargain with Obama and push for more deficit reduction.

“Conservatives in Congress must use the budget to make a stand on principles,” Paul Winfree, budget expert at the Heritage Foundation, wrote in an op-ed last week. He added a direct warning: “Congress should not bless the Boehner-Obama spending agreement in its budget.” 

Updated at 11:38 a.m.

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