In the budget showdown looming next month between Republicans and the White House, the fiscal hawks have their position — Barack Obama is bankrupting the country — and the president has his: There is no crisis, and, actually, it’s time to ramp up spending.
Mr. Obama made that argument Friday, telling a college audience that the deficit has dropped substantially in recent years and the budget is in good enough shape to begin spending again on his priorities such as education.
Speaking at a town-hall meeting at the State University of New York-Binghamton, Mr. Obama said red ink is shrinking at its fastest pace since World War II.
The deficit peaked at $1.4 trillion in 2009, which spanned the end of President George W. Bush’s tenure and the beginning of Mr. Obama’s, and that record was followed by deficits of $1.3 trillion in 2010 and 2011 and $1.1 trillion in 2012. But this year’s deficit is projected to be less than $700 billion.
“As the economy’s improved, the deficit has gone down. It’s now dropped at the fastest rate in 60 years,” the president said. “The deficit has been cut in half since 2009 and is on a downward trajectory.”
Indeed, deficits are projected to drop for the next two years, thanks to a slightly better economy, higher taxes imposed at the beginning of this year, the expiration of stimulus spending, and spending cuts the GOP forced. But deficits will begin to rise again by the end of Mr. Obama’s second term and continue into the foreseeable future, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimates.
The president acknowledged some future deficit problems, but said those are driven more by growing costs of providing health care and not from basic domestic spending on education or infrastructure.
Mr. Obama said that with deficits dropping now, though, there is no reason not to begin spending again on education or research and development, which he said act as investments in the long-term economic picture.
“We don’t have an urgent deficit crisis,” the president said. “The only crisis we have is one that’s manufactured in Washington, and it’s ideological. And the basic notion is, is that we shouldn’t be helping people get health care and we shouldn’t be helping kids who can’t help themselves and whose parents are underresourced — we shouldn’t be helping them get a leg up.”
In the short term, the philosophical clash Mr. Obama laid out with the GOP will play out in September, when the next round of appropriations bills need to be passed.
Some Republicans are pushing for their leaders to insist that any funding specifically cut off money for Mr. Obama’s health care law. The president has said he won’t accept that, and the stalemate could leave the government without funding, which would force a partial shutdown.
The two sides are also far apart on basic spending numbers for next year. Democrats in the Senate have written bills that would spend $89 billion more in 2014 than the House GOP wants to spend.
In a conference call with House Republicans on Thursday, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio floated the possibility of passing a short-term spending bill to give all sides more time to negotiate.
Both sides have attacked short-term bills as a bad way to run government, but each side has also agreed to repeated short-term extensions in recent years as they’ve sparred over the bigger long-term spending hurdles.