President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget, released on Valentine’s Day, is getting little love from either side of the ideological aisle.

Republicans, who in a nod to their tea party supporters have proposed $61 billion in spending cuts for the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30, said Obama’s $3.73 trillion proposal falls short of his pledge to fiscal discipline.

“The President’s budget reflects a complete lack of seriousness about our present fiscal crisis.  If this is our generation’s Sputnik moment, then the White House clearly hasn’t gotten the message,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in a statement. “If we are serious about cutting the size of government and creating jobs, it is going to require real leadership from this White House.”

The White House spending plan promises to cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years but will increase the deficit by $1.65 trillion this year before starting to scale back.

The plan reflects funding boosts in areas such as biomedical research, broadband extension, high-speed rail, elementary education and clean energy. “These investments are an essential part of the budget,” President Obama said at Baltimore’s Parkville Middle School and Center for Technology on Monday, “… because I’m convinced that if we out-build and out-innovate and out-educate, as well as out-hustle the rest of the world, the jobs and industries of our time will take root here in the United States.  Our people will prosper and our country will succeed.” 

But such increases fly in the face of the president’s promise to address long-term deficit reduction, Capitol Hill Republicans said.

“He’s been eloquent about the problem and yet his solutions don’t address the problem,” said Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, in a press conference. “The president has chosen to increase spending in some places, like high-speed rail, and then make reductions elsewhere. But at the end of the day, it does nothing in terms of addressing our budget problem because it doesn’t reduce spending.”

“But here’s the thing,” President Obama countered in his speech. “While it’s absolutely essential to live within our means, while we are absolutely committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to find further savings and to look at the whole range of budget issues, we can’t sacrifice our future in the process.  Even as we cut out things that we can afford to do without, we have a responsibility to invest in those areas that will have the biggest impact in our future – and that’s especially true when it comes to education.”

To pay for these investments – and with an eye to debt reduction – the proposed budget includes a five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending, a $78 billion deduction in defense funds with a further anticipation of savings from the ending of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, ending tax breaks for oil and gas companies and ending tax cuts to wealthy Americans. In all the plan cuts back or eliminates more than 200 programs and the president has further promised to veto any bill larded with earmarks.

The plan even includes cuts to programs that he cares “deeply” about, the president added, including a $300 million reduction in community development block grants, $2.5 billion cut from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Pell Grant decreases and a 50 percent funding cut for community services block grants. “This budget freeze will require some tough choices,” Obama acknowledged. “But if we’re going to walk the walk when it comes to fiscal discipline, these kinds of cuts will be necessary.”

Democratic lawmakers and liberal advocacy groups are decrying the cuts, however, saying it targets communities that are more socioeconomically vulnerable.

“Rebuilding our economy on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans is something that I simply cannot accept,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., in a statement. “I understand that now is the time for us as a nation to sacrifice in order to protect our children from a mountain of debt; however, I am struggling to understand how this budget helps us to best achieve this critical goal.

“Cutting funding to programs that assist hard-working Americans, help families heat their homes, and expand access to graduate-level education seems to conflict with the notion of winning the future,” he added. “We cannot win the future by leaving our most vulnerable behind.”

Harking back to the CBC’s disagreement with the president over last year’s extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, Illinois Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr. said this budget further plays into the GOP’s hands. “This request for FY2012 opens the door for the huge cuts that Republicans are forcing us to digest for the rest of FY2011,” he said in a statement. “How can we stop the Republican cuts when the president has one-upped them?  As the president, he should be the last line of defense for the most vulnerable Americans, instead of the first one to cut.”

Black lawmakers and others such as John Irons, research and policy director of the Economic Policy Institute, said the budget is misguided. “The president’s top economic priority should be job creation, but the proposed budget does too little and turns too quickly toward deficit reduction,” said Irons in a statement, adding that the unemployment climate – 9 percent for 21 months and anticipated elevated rates for the next few years – “demands a stronger response.”

Though he praised the president’s proposed investments in transportation infrastructure, energy research and the like, Irons cautioned, “Unfortunately, the funding increases in these and other areas, while welcome, are insufficient to put a major dent in unemployment. Furthermore, the overall freeze in domestic discretionary spending all but ensures that the fight to create jobs and ensure future economic growth will be limited.”

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO