Timing is everything: Obama's budget same day as NH primary

AP News
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Posted: Feb 08, 2016 11:38 AM
Timing is everything: Obama's budget same day as NH primary

WASHINGTON (AP) — The main thing to know about President Barack Obama's final, $4 trillion budget is that it comes on the same day as the New Hampshire primary, ensuring it gets minimal attention with all the focus on the White House contenders.

The timing cements the impression that Obama realizes a Republican-led Congress is unlikely to embrace his spending priorities. Typically, the budget is released on a Monday, but White House press secretary Josh Earnest says Tuesday's release allowed administration employees and journalists a chance to watch the Super Bowl.

The 2017 budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 will combine proposals for new spending on infrastructure, education and combating opioid abuse with tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals to keep deficits down. This will avoid proposing cuts to popular programs like Medicare, student loans or food stamps.

The administration has unveiled several proposals on a piecemeal basis leading up to the official rollout.

Things to know:

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WISH LIST

The budget is just a proposal, and the White House gets to assume that it's enacted in its entirety. That means it always contains lots of things that have no chance of ever making their way through Congress — like a $10 per barrel fee on oil to pay for more than $30 billion in various transportation projects, which landed with a thud on Thursday. The same can be said of Obama's plans for $6 billion for job training, including $4 billion over three years to teach computer science.

Other proposals may have more of a shot, including $1 billion over two years to combat heroin and opioid addictions, additional funding to feed low-income children during the summer, when most lose access to free and reduced-price lunches, and additional money for the administration's "moonshot" effort to cure cancer.

"My budget is going to offer more opportunities for Americans to get the education and job training that they need for a good paying job," Obama said on Friday.

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RED INK IS WORSE

Believe it or not, last year's $439 billion deficit was actually pretty good even though it required the government to borrow 12 cents of every dollar it spent. That's way down from the record $1.4 trillion deficit, which required borrowing 40 cents of every dollar spent, registered in Obama's first year in office.

But now, the Congressional Budget Office says that last year's tax and spending bill, combined with worsening economic projections, means that deficits will begin a steady march to the $1 trillion mark in a few years. Sooner or later, CBO says, action to curb the deficit is a must, or else it could drag down the economy and lead to a potential European-style fiscal crisis. These problems will be left to Obama's successor since he and GOP leaders have long since given up on working together to get the deficit under control.

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DEAD ON ARRIVAL

Hate the cliche, tagged onto the budget of virtually every president, but it has never been truer. In fact, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declared Obama's $10 per barrel of oil tax dead on arrival. Obama's budget is so dead that the Republican chairmen of House and Senate Budget committees issued a statement declaring they wouldn't even bother to hold the requisite day-after hearing to allow White House Budget Office chief Shaun Donovan to go through the motions of defending it.

"Nothing in the president's prior budgets ... has shown that the Obama administration has any real interest in actually solving our fiscal challenges," chided House Budget Chair Tom Price, R-Ga.

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REPUBLICANS HAVE PROBLEMS, TOO

Republicans have troubles of their own. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will have a difficult time trying to pass a GOP alternative to Obama's budget. In the House, many tea party lawmakers say they won't vote for any budget that endorses additional agency spending permitted under last fall's budget deal. Since Democrats won't vote for any GOP budget — their votes carried the budget deal last year — Republicans will have great trouble advancing one on their own.

Failure to pass a budget would be a big embarrassment for Republicans, but the real work this year will involve bipartisan action on the 12 individual bills to finance the government agencies and departments. Those bills divvy up the approximately one-third of the budget passed each year at Congress' discretion, including funds for the Pentagon and the day-to-day operations of domestic agencies.

The process has gotten way off kilter in recent years, consumed by brinksmanship and hard feelings, but Ryan and McConnell say they want to get it back on track. Finishing the bills before the election is a heavy lift, and if Republicans win the presidency in November, they could stick to a short-term extension and wait for the new president to finish the bills.