House, Senate Panels Take Up Revised Obama Budget

March 25, 2009 - 4:06 AM
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Washington (AP) - Twin congressional budget panels are considering their responses to President Barack Obama's $3.6 trillion budget plan for 2010 as Obama himself troops to the Capitol to pitch it to Senate Democrats.
 
Both the House and Senate budget chairmen have been forced by worsening deficit estimates to scale back Obama's requests for domestic programs, while deeply controversial revenues from his global warming initiative won't be included either.
 
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., announced a budget blueprint Tuesday that would scrap Obama's signature tax cut after 2010 while employing some sleight of hand to cut the annual budget deficit to a sustainable level.
 
Conrad promises to reduce the deficit from a projected $1.7 trillion this year to a still-high $508 billion in 2014. Along the way, the Senate plan would have Obama's "Making Work Pay" tax credit, delivering $400 tax cuts to most workers and $800 to couples, expire at the end of next year. Those tax cuts were included in Obama's stimulus package.
 
In the House, Budget Chairman John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., said his companion blueprint would employ fast-track procedures to allow Obama's overhaul of the U.S. health care system to pass Congress without the threat of a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
 
Democrats point out that Obama inherited an unprecedented fiscal mess caused by the recession and the taxpayer-financed bailout of Wall Street. Rather than retrenching, however, they still promise to award big budget increases to education and clean energy programs, while assuming Obama's plans to overhaul the U.S. health care system advance.
 
"The best way to bring our deficit down in the long run is ... with a budget that leads to broad economic growth by moving from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest," Obama said in a Tuesday night news conference.
 
It's also becoming clear that Obama's controversial global warming initiative has experienced a setback, as neither House nor Senate Democrats are directly incorporating into their budget plans Obama's controversial "cap-and-trade" system for auctioning permits to emit greenhouse gases.
 
Obama's budget has ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill, with Republicans assailing it for record spending and budget deficits. Democrats are generally supportive, though some have sticker shock over the deficit figures.
 
Conrad's plan was released in the wake of new Congressional Budget Office estimates that predicted Obama's plan would produce alarming estimates of red ink -- $9.3 trillion over 10 years and a deficit of $749 billion in 2014. Obama's budget promises a $570 billion deficit in that year, and to get below that figure Conrad was forced to make a series of difficult choices.
 
Conrad said his budget makes room for Obama's hopes to deliver health care to the uninsured. He said the plan would not add to the deficit over the long haul.
 
In grappling with the deficit, Conrad would cut Obama's proposed increases for next year for domestic agencies funded by lawmakers to growth of about $27 billion, or 6 percent. Over five years, the savings from Obama's budget would be $160 billion.
 
But Conrad also makes several shaky assumptions, especially that Congress will raise taxes by about $114 billion over 2013-14 to make sure middle-class taxpayers won't get hit by the alternative minimum tax. He also saves $87 billion by promising Congress will come up with spending cuts or new revenues to avoid cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.
 
Both problems have been fixed in recent years by using deficit dollars.
 
Under Congress' arcane procedures, the annual congressional budget resolution is a nonbinding measure that sets the terms for follow-up legislation.
 
Neither budget includes Obama's $250 billion set-aside for more bailouts of banks and other firms.