Despite a national debt over $18 trillion, President Obama said Saturday the nation can afford the major spending increases he’ll put forward in his fiscal year 2016 budget, due out Monday.
In his weekly address, Mr. Obama made the case that the federal government has the money to invest in infrastructure, education and other priorities because of shrinking deficits, though he also is calling for tax hikes on the wealthy to fund his desired $74 billion increase in spending. His budget also would undo the automatic cuts known as sequestration, paving the way for even higher spending down the road.
It’s a certainty the president’s budget will go nowhere in its current form, but by doubling down on more government spending the White House has set up a vicious fiscal fight with the Republican-controlled Congress.
“We’ll help working families’ paychecks go farther by treating things like paid leave and child care like the economic priorities that they are. We’ll offer Americans of every age the chance to upgrade their skills so they can earn higher wages, with plans like making two years of community college free for every responsible student. And we’ll keep building the world’s most attractive economy for high-wage jobs, with new investments in research, infrastructure, manufacturing, and expanded access to faster internet and new markets,” Mr. Obama said Saturday, previewing his budget. “We can afford to make these investments. Since I took office, we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds — the fastest sustained deficit reduction since just after the end of World War II.”
Deficits have indeed dropped considerably over the past several years, but the national debt continues to rise. It stood at $10.6 trillion when Mr. Obama came into office.
It now is over $18 trillion.
Meanwhile, Republicans are countering Mr. Obama’s message of so-called “middle-class economics” by pushing their own measures aimed at helping working families. House GOP leaders have proposed a plan to expand the 529 college savings accounts, which allow families to save for college and withdraw the money tax free.
The White House had sought to tax 529s but withdrew the plan after heavy public criticism and private pressure from prominent Democrats.
“It was a terribly misguided idea, but it took a public outcry for the president to realize it … But with hardworking families struggling, abandoning his proposal is not enough,” said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, Kansas Republican, said in the weekly GOP address. “First, the president should put his full weight behind our plan to expand and strengthen 529 accounts. We can remove common paperwork problems, empower students to use the money to pay for computers, and make it easier for families to send their kids to the college of their choice. Because we should be rewarding people who work hard and play by the rules — not punishing them.”
Ms. Jenkins also urged the president to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline. A measure approving the project cleared the Senate this week but Mr. Obama has vowed to veto it.
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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