The White House said Tuesday it will continue to try to freeze non-security spending in next year’s budget as President Obama seeks to counter the flood of red ink that has swept the federal budget over the last decade.
White House budget director Peter R. Orszag said federal agencies were asked Tuesday morning to produce a list of potential cuts totaling 5 percent of their budgets, and then he and Mr. Obama will sort through those proposals to decide which cuts to accept when they propose a budget next February.
The extra cutting room will allow the government to spend more on Mr. Obama’s own priorities, he said.
“Some go down, some go up. What we’re aiming for is an overall freeze,” he said. “By asking each agency to come back with something at minus-five, we’re creating the room to plus-up some, reduce others and what have you, so that we can continue to hit that overall freeze.”
Mr. Orszag also said the president will live up to his promise to veto bills that stray outside of the non-security spending freeze.
With Congress appearing unlikely to approve a budget or even make much headway on the annual spending bills this year, Mr. Obama could end up having to exercise that role as sheriff of spending.
But Congress still has the most control over appropriations, and Republicans said the most important thing Mr. Obama can do is pressure Democrats to write a budget and live within it.
“If the White House actually wants to end Washington Democrats’ out-of-control spending spree, which is scaring the hell out of the American people, why aren’t they asking congressional Democrats to produce a budget?” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “If they don’t, this is just a lot of hot air.”
Fiscal year 2010 runs through Sept. 30, and Congress should already be well on the way toward writing the bills for fiscal year 2011, but have made little headway. A Senate committee has written a plan, but neither the full House nor full Senate have acted on a budget - much less hammered out their differences for a unified bill.
In his 2011 proposal, Mr. Obama called for an overall freeze on non-defense spending, though he said it is not a blanket policy. Some agencies would see increases, and some would see cuts, he said.
The continuation of the spending freeze comes less than a month after Mr. Obama proposed a modified line-item veto, under which he would be able to send a package of proposed cuts up to Congress, and lawmakers would have to act within a set timeframe.
That proposal, though, has drawn fire from within his own party.
House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, penned a column Tuesday for Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, in which she argued Mr. Obama already has enough power over spending with his veto.
“If the White House is really serious about curbing spending, the president can always use a veto threat to persuade or cajole or threaten the Congress to go along with his wishes. If he has the votes, he will get his way. And if not, the legislative branch will get its way,” she said.
Mr. Orszag said he still thinks the proposal has momentum.