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Obama team pitches budget on Hill
Question of the Day
Top administration officials tried to steer President Obama’s new $3.8 trillion budget through a U.S. congressional minefield on Tuesday as the day-old plan drew fire from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Democrats took shots at the budget’s proposed hits on some favored programs, including the elimination of NASA’s manned moon flight program and Army Corps of Engineers projects.
Republicans generally contended the package didn’t do enough to trim deficits while increasing taxes too much.
Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, who is the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee, said Mr. Obama’s promise to freeze some domestic spending was more symbolism than substance.
“Sure, it’s the right sentiment, but it doesn’t get you anywhere,” Mr. Gregg said. “It’s small ball.”
He also blasted Mr. Obama’s proposal, being promoted on Tuesday on a presidential visit to New Hampshire, to use $30 billion in funds from the 2008 bank bailout program for a small-business lending program.
Mr. Gregg pointed out that money repaid by banks from the Troubled Assets Relief Program to the government is by law supposed to pay down the federal debt.
“It’s not for a piggy bank because you’re concerned about lending to small businesses,” Mr. Gregg told Peter R. Orszag, director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
Mr. Orszag told Mr. Gregg the administration was well aware of the provision in the TARP legislation requiring money to be paid back and anything extra used to pay down the national debt.
That is why the administration is seeking legislation to authorize the $30 billion small-business lending program, Mr. Orszag said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, who chairs the Budget Committee, faulted the administration for not doing enough to stanch the deficit flood. While he said he agreed with Mr. Obama’s plan to spend more now to maintain the fragile economic recovery, Mr. Conrad said that the administration does not do nearly enough to address out-of-control deficits in the next few years.
“I don’t see the pivot” to tackling the deficit, Mr. Conrad said. “I don’t see the focus on bringing down that long-term debt.”
The expressions of skepticism and complaints showed how difficult it will be for Mr. Obama to win even the support of his own Democratic Party for his new budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
In a sign that not all of the budget’s proposals were in trouble, Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, said there is bipartisan support in the Senate to pass a bill that offers tax credits to employers that add workers.
Mr. Baucus said he supports Mr. Obama’s plan, and he noted that other senators on the committee, including Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, have proposed similar bills.
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