The budget that President Obama unveiled Monday is, at its heart, a political document, laying out his priorities and, not incidentally, reflecting the strategy he plans to pursue in his reelection bid.
It underscores Obama’s hopes of turning the election into a choice -- as he sees it -- between a vision based on economic fairness and broad opportunity and Republican proposals that would hurt the neediest and further reward the already well-to-do.
Not surprising, Republicans hated the president’s proposal, which, truth be told, was dead even before the document left the printer. They said Obama had reneged on his promise to slash the deficit and offered nothing to address the long-term fiscal peril posed by expanding entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Among those joining the condemnatory chorus was Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential hopeful, who issued a critical statement before Obama unveiled his budget blueprint.
“This week, President Obama will release a budget that won’t take any meaningful steps toward solving our entitlement crisis,” Romney said in a statement his campaign emailed to reporters. “The president has failed to offer a single serious idea to save Social Security and is the only president in modern history to cut Medicare benefits for seniors. I believe we can save Social Security and Medicare with a few common-sense reforms and — unlike President Obama — I am not afraid to put them on the table.”
The reference to cutting Medicare is based on provisions in Obama’s healthcare plan that reduce the expected growth in spending by $500 billion over 10 years, much of it by reducing payments to the private insurance program Medicare Advantage.
Romney has proposed turning Medicaid into a block grant program, suggesting the federal government could save money without reducing care by sending money to states and allowing them to innovate. On Social Security, the former Massachusetts governor has proposed encouraging people to invest in private retirement accounts, raising the retirement age for future beneficiaries and reducing payments for well-off seniors.
On the spending side, Romney has said he would slice $95 billion from the deficit “right off the top” by granting states the right to opt out of the federal healthcare overhaul, killing it before it fully takes effect. He would also eliminate funding for a host of programs, including the national endowments for the arts and humanities and money for Amtrak and the Public Broadcasting System.
Romney also promised to slash the federal workforce 10% through attrition and send aid programs, such as food stamps and low-income housing vouchers, to individual states to run.
The president’s reelection team fired back with a statement attacking Romney, who strategists continue to regard as Obama’s likeliest November opponent.
“Mitt Romney calls his cuts to Social Security and Medicare common sense,” said spokesman Ben LaBolt. “But his proposal to end Medicare as we know it and gut Social Security in order to fund massive tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires won’t sound like common sense to most Americans.”