- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Even as they faulted President Obama for not cutting deeply enough in the budget he sent to Congress this week, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill laid the groundwork Tuesday for all-out fights to try to add back more spending on defense and domestic priorities — and the administration already is warning of vetoes if some lines are crossed.

Republicans said Mr. Obama’s proposed cuts to the C-17 transport aircraft and last year’s decision to end the F-22 Raptor will have to be revisited in light of new threats and unmet defense needs. Democrats said the budget freezes out public works projects and breaks faith with those who are counting on federal assistance, such as farmers.

“I see a budget that puts a bull’s-eye on many policies that rural America relies on,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat and chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, who is in a difficult re-election campaign.

Overall, it was a rough start for the president’s $3.83 trillion blueprint for fiscal 2011, which he submitted Monday. As his deputies descended on Capitol Hill to testify before several committees, they found themselves fending off charges that they went too far, that they didn’t go far enough, and that their cuts were too blunt.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said he credits the administration with staving off a global economic collapse last year, but he was expecting Mr. Obama to show more leadership in this budget to rein in long-term costs.

“I don’t see the focus. I don’t see the pivot,” he told Peter Orszag, the White House budget director.

Mr. Orszag said the budget includes more than $1 trillion in total deficit reductions over the next 10 years, which he said represented the largest cuts a president has submitted in more than a decade.

But he acknowledged that the budget doesn’t live up to the administration’s standards, laid out last year, for what constitutes a sustainable course.

“Is it enough? No, we’ve admitted that,” Mr. Orszag said.

It became clear just how much stock the White House is putting in Mr. Obama’s plan to create a debt commission to try to bridge that gap.

Mr. Orszag said the administration is counting on a commission “to get us the rest of the way” to sustainable spending, and to force Republicans to shoulder responsibility with Democrats for doing that.

“This has to be done on a bipartisan basis, and we are calling for a commission, and with the goal of not only addressing our long-term fiscal imbalance but also balancing the budget excluding interest payments on the debt by 2015, which would get us the rest of the way there to our fiscal target,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s plan is to create a bipartisan commission that could propose both savings and tax increases, and would compile the best ideas offered.

So far, the only broad proposal has come from Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, who last month released a “road map” for budget cuts and overhauling entitlement programs, and who has sparked a real debate in the House.

His plan would change the way tax law handles health insurance to make Americans take more control of their plans, and would rewrite Social Security and Medicare for those younger than 55. On Medicare, future retirees would be given a set dollar amount to purchase Medicare-approved plans, and on Social Security, future retirees could elect to invest some of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts.

Democrats, who for months have been battered by charges that their health care plans cut Medicare, fired back at Mr. Ryan, accusing him of threatening seniors’ cherished entitlements.

But even amid the criticism, some Democrats gave Mr. Ryan credit for pushing the debate.

Mr. Obama’s budget limits non-security discretionary spending for the next three years, which makes up $250 billion of the more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction. The administration also proposes tax hikes on upper-income taxpayers and on the largest banks.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told the Senate Finance Committee that the administration is committed to raising $90 billion over 10 years from those big banks to recover some of the costs of the Wall Street bailout.

Mr. Obama’s proposed budget increases security spending but also makes specific cuts. It argues that the C-17 transport is outdated and that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter does not need a second engine production line.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said he is an impartial observer because his state doesn’t benefit from producing the C-17 or F-22, but insisted those programs are needed.

“I don’t have a dog in that fight. We don’t have any parochial interest there. But it’s the capability that we’re going to need,” he said.

Preparing for those fights, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he will tell Mr. Obama to veto any bill that proceeds with the F-35 alternate engine - which Congress funded at $465 million in 2010 — or the C-17 transport.

“Let me be very clear. I will strongly recommend that the president veto any legislation that sustains the unnecessary continuation of these two programs,” he said.

He also said he has no intention of revisiting last year’s battle, when the White House used veto threats to force Congress to end production of the F-22.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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