President Obama on Monday failed to heed his vow to take an ever-sharper scalpel to the budget during tough economic times, instead proposing $1 billion less in discretionary spending cuts than last year and ensuring bruising fights over his plans to ax manned spaceflight, pet defense projects and a number of popular parks and forest programs in 2011.
Overall, the president’s budget calls for the government to spend $3.83 trillion next year and to run a deficit of about $1.3 trillion, assuming the economy rebounds and tax revenues increase. Mr. Obama predicts federal spending will drop slightly in 2012 to $3.75 trillion before beginning a steady rise to $4.39 trillion by 2015.
The president begged Republicans and Democrats to join an effort to strike a balance between boosting the economy in the short run, while trying to get a handle on deficits over the long term.
“I’m willing to reduce waste in programs I care about, and I’m asking members of Congress to do the same,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m asking Republicans and Democrats alike to take a fresh look at programs they’ve supported in the past to see what’s working and what’s not, and trim back accordingly.”
To help pump up the economy, Mr. Obama proposed increasing spending on clean-energy efforts, scientific research and the Department of Education.
In order to meet his spending targets, Mr. Obama called for a three-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending. The president says the freeze would save $250 billion over 10 years, while not hurting security as the country fights two wars.
But key lawmakers said they’re not going to be bound by the rules of his freeze.
“We will not exceed his requested level for appropriations, but we will also not exempt any department or activity from review, including foreign aid and the Pentagon, because none of them are without waste,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.
To hit his spending targets, Mr. Obama is proposing more than $23 billion in specific cuts: $10.3 billion in discretionary programs and the rest coming in mandatory spending cuts and administrative savings.
But those discretionary spending cuts are $1.2 billion less than the $11.5 billion he proposed last year, disappointing budget scorekeepers who had hoped for more cuts.
“This year’s cuts seem no more ambitious, and in fact seem a little less ambitious, which is not what I would have hoped,” said Marc Goldwein, policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Having proposed a non-security discretionary spending freeze for three years, I would have thought the administration would be a little more aggressive in cutting real waste to meet that freeze.”
Last year Mr. Obama proposed slightly more than $11 billion in discretionary spending cuts and about $6 billion in mandatory spending reductions. When asked about the amount, which came to less than one-half of 1 percent of total spending, the administration said it was a good start for a first-year budget and promised to go deeper in future years.
Of the 2011 cuts, at least 28 of the 77 discretionary programs Mr. Obama proposed cutting are ones he targeted last year.
Among them are the C-17 transport, which the Pentagon says it doesn’t need but which Congress continues to fund and which Mr. Obama wants to reduce from $2.5 billion to zero in 2011. Mr. Obama also called for cutting production of a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, for a savings of $465 million.
Both of those programs are favorites of defense appropriators, who added them back into the 2010 spending bills despite the president’s opposition.