Obama to present budget proposal he sees as a middle ground

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President Obama unveils his 2012 budget blueprint Monday in the midst of a Republican uprising in the House that underscores the strength of the new class of conservative lawmakers and accentuates the obstacles faced by the White House.

Obama will argue that fiscal restraint can coexist with economic investment, but Republicans are demanding ever deeper cuts, including programs dealing with law enforcement, disease control, environmental protection and arts.

In a dramatic turn, conservative freshmen last week rejected spending reductions to the current 2011 spending plan proposed by House GOP leaders as inadequate and forced House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to accede to more.


Within this changed environment, Obama will send Congress a spending plan that charts what the president hopes will be seen as a middle ground.

The president will call for a five-year spending freeze and no pay raises for federal workers. He will target social programs, including cuts to a home heating assistance program for low-income households. He also will propose reductions in the popular Community Development Block Grant program and in funds for community action groups.

But Obama also wants Congress to join his campaign to “out-educate, out-build and out-innovate” the global competition by building up key areas, including high-speed rail, Internet broadband and research outlays to encourage job creation in new industries, including clean energy and biotechnology.

He will ask for more spending to train math, science and engineering teachers, kicking off a plan to add 100,000 new teachers to the classroom over the next decade — a tough sell when many new Republicans want to dismantle the Education Department.

“This budget asks Washington to live within its means, while at the same time investing in our future,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio address.

Already, though, Republican newcomers and their conservative allies have panned Obama’s initial proposals.


“These are extraordinarily challenging times,” said freshman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). “I hope the president’s budget reflects that.”

The presentation of a president’s budget almost always ignites a season of spending debates in Washington, and Obama’s first proposal last year was not enacted, even as his party held control of Congress.

Now, with Republicans in control of the House and “tea party” influence dominant, a budget from a Democratic White House faces bleak odds for passage.

The Democratic-led Senate is still likely to backstop Obama’s interests. “We should not be cutting education and taking cops off the street,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Agricultural subsidies, the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean-water fund and the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget are under the knife, too, sources said.

“You’ll see some tough decisions from our side on the budget,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.


So far, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are trimming only around the edges — proposing cuts to nondefense discretionary spending, which makes up less than 15% of the federal budget.

But it is unclear whether Obama’s blueprint will broach the “adult conversation” of deficit reduction — the more difficult changes to tax policy, entitlement programs and defense spending.

All are political hot buttons. But to sidestep the broader budget debate “would be a missed opportunity,” said Jim Kessler, a co-founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank.

Leaders of both parties have said the two sides could work together on such issues. But new conservative House members may limit what Boehner is able to do.

House GOP leaders were broadsided last week by the intransigence of their freshmen lawmakers. By week’s end, Boehner was embracing their steep reductions as his own, leaving it unclear how willing a partner Obama will find in the House speaker.