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Blog: A Variety of Reactions to President Obama's 2015 Budget Proposal

Mar 19, 2014 | By Carolyn Burstein, NETWORK Communications Fellow

Blog: A Variety of Reactions to President Obama's 2015 Budget Proposal

In order to better understand some of the components of President Obama’s budget proposal – and to assess its chances of congressional approval – I reviewed some of the media coverage and analysis by other organizations. This is what I found:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) concludes a comprehensive review of the President's 2015 budget proposal on a note of what might be termed "partial optimism" that is at odds with many in the mainstream press. CBPP does claim that there are few prospects for progress on key budget issues in 2014 and that the legislative measures in the Obama proposal will certainly not become law this year. Nevertheless, the president's proposal and the budget to be released soon from the House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will provide the framework for debates over fiscal policies and priorities, claims CBPP. And many in the press would add that they will also become the alternative election blueprints in the 2014 mid-term elections.

CBPP concludes that the Obama budget provides a much sounder course than that to be provided by the Ryan budget because it curbs unproductive special-interest tax breaks in order to make investments in future prosperity, reduces poverty especially among those who perform low-paid work and gives many pre-school youngsters a better chance of success, while at the same time reducing deficits in the mid-and-long-term.

Those in the mainstream national press (the LA Times, Washington Post, Politico, BBC News, NY Times) expected very little of the president's budget to be seriously considered as legislative material on the Hill. Almost to prove their point, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, indicated that she will adhere to the spending caps in the December budget deal, which the Obama proposal exceeds in several instances (even though these items are offset with funding mostly from closing tax loopholes). Even with the additional $56 billion for non-defense discretionary programs that the president's budget proposes, CBPP reminds us that those programs will still be 10% below the 2010 inflation-adjusted level. However, few in the Democratic Party have the appetite to reopen the debate on the budget deal that finally ended some rather nasty budget fights.

The mainstream press was quick to categorize the Obama proposal as little more than an attempt to re-energize Democratic supporters. They view the budget proposal as a blueprint for congressional Democrats to use in the mid-term elections. No wonder the LA Times talked about the warm reception the president's budget received from his allies on the Hill because they were exhilarated by the contrast between his economic policies and those of their Republican rivals.

Jackie Calms of the NY Times on March 4, 2014 said that the president's proposal was "full of policies intended to invite contrasts with Republicans rather than offer compromises as he did last year, without success." Later in the same article, she says that the budget reflects Obama's aspirations regardless of the political reality he faces. Indeed, the budget does embody the president's "wish list," since he places an emphasis on the investment side of the ledger to address his belief in economic inequality especially in his suggestions for overhauling the tax code. He also seeks to broaden opportunities for upward mobility through his universal kindergarten proposal.

Republicans were quick to condemn the Obama budget, particularly for its spending and tax increases. They will most likely succeed again in blocking much of it in the appropriation process, though the White House hopes its allies can push some of the president's initiatives successfully.

One of the most significant proposals in the president's budget is expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and including childless adults and adults who do not have custody of their children as well as ensuring that EITC provisions will not expire after 2017. EITC keeps more people out of poverty than any other program except Social Security, CBPP tells us, lifting 10.1 million people out of poverty in 2012. By raising the maximum amount of credit available to eligible low-income workers, an estimated 13.5 million people would benefit, 500,000 would be lifted out of poverty, and 10 million others would be less poor.

For those groups that focus almost exclusively on a single issue, the following three are typical. First, the Pew Charitable Trusts are delighted with the nearly 22% increase in the Department of Energy's energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including additional monies for its bio-energy, fuel cell, solar, wind, water and geothermal programs with an emphasis on manufacturing and advanced technologies.

Secondly, Allie Bidwell in her March 4, 2014 article in U.S. News and World Report focused exclusively on the $1.3 billion increase in the Department of Education's budget for combating inequities in American education by creating a universal preschool system for four-year-olds. Given the slamming of Head Start programs in Paul Ryan's report on the "War on Poverty" (March 3, 2014), this should turn out to be a most enlightening debate during the appropriations process.

A final example of a single-issue reaction to the president's proposal is that of the take-away by the Environment News Service (ENS), which noted on March 4, 2014 that $1 billion is allotted to a new initiative called the "Climate Resilience Fund." Seemingly overjoyed at this investment in research to better understand the projected impacts of a changing climate as well as additional funds and staff at EPA to support implementation of the president's "Climate Action Plan" and a renewed focus on clean air and water, the ENS makes no mention of the political realities in some quarters of Congress which might quickly kill these initiatives.

Various advocacy groups, from both the left and right sides of the political spectrum, reacted to the president's proposal in typical fashion and, if they mentioned its chances for passage, they are skewed to their political beliefs. Those on the right, such as The New American, on March 8, 2014, condemned "the massive new spending proposals" which will bankrupt the country with its "monetary gravy train" from Washington. Such publications indicate that any chance of getting any part of the budget through the House is virtually zero. On the other hand, those on the left like the Center for American Progress on March 4, 2014 in an article entitled "President Obama's Budget Resets the Fiscal Debate," is just as adamant that the proposal shifts the political conversation away from a "misguided focus on austerity and debt" to dealing with urgent national problems. There is no doubt that many of the president's supporters are euphoric that some of the his previous attempts to gain support for his proposals by compromising with Republicans on deficit-related issues, like his support for the "chained CPI," have gone missing in this latest document.

There is no consensus about the chances of the president's 2015 budget proposal being passed by Congress among the numerous articles and essays that have focused their attention on it in the past 10 days since it was released. Most commentators agree that the proposal is largely a political exercise (all budgets are!), but because of Congressional gridlock, most conclude that the chances of passage range from quite slim to unlikely.

Most believe that Republicans will oppose many of the proposals, including tax benefit caps (which puts at risk Obama's $56 billion special initiatives on universal kindergarten, additional job training and manufacturing hubs) and social programs. However, there may be some surprises in store for the pessimists. Interestingly, the methods proposed by the president to offset the cost of his new initiatives are also included in Dave Camp's (R-Mich.) recently released tax reform plan (although he proposes to use the revenue raised for very different purposes). Also, many Republicans have supported reforms to the EITC in the recent past. White House officials indicate that they are hoping that enough of the administration's initiatives can be salvaged to place the president's mark on this budget and his legacy, and maybe the rest can provide a framework for future legislation.