Obama Rallying Democrats to Fight for Spending Boost in Budget

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) and U.S. President Barack Obama pass each other during a farewell ceremony for Hagel at Fort Myer January 28, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Barack Obama will rally Democrats for a budget battle with Republicans by proposing a major spending boost for both domestic programs and the military.

With his fiscal 2016 spending blueprint set for release Feb. 2, Obama will address a meeting of House Democrats on Thursday in Philadelphia to supply details and an argument to carry into a fight to reverse the across-the-board budget limits known as sequestration.

Obama is proposing about $74 billion in additional discretionary spending, about 7 percent above the level set under the sequestration law, an administration official said.

Of that, $38 billion would be added above the cap for defense and national security spending, for a total of $561 billion. Non-defense discretionary spending would be increased by $37 billion over the current limit to $530 billion, according the official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the figures before the budget is released.

A 2013 agreement to suspend some of the cuts “helped boost our economic growth without undermining fiscal responsibility,” Obama wrote in an article published Thursday on the Huffington Post website. “If Congress rejects my plan and refuses to undo these arbitrary cuts, it will threaten our economy and our military.”

The White House previously outlined tax increases and new funding Obama plans to seek in a budget that amounts to a political agenda for Democrats.

Republican View

None of that will sit well with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, where many lawmakers want to make deeper cuts to the spending within a federal budget of almost $4 trillion.

“Previous budgets submitted by the president have purported to reverse the bipartisan spending limits through tax increases that the Congress -- even under Democrats -- could never accept,” Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in an e-mail.

Obama’s budget submission is the opening bid in a nine-month battle over the federal government’s bottom line for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Republicans in Congress will then try to write their own version, a task made difficult by divisions within the party over how to allocate federal funds.

No Surprise

The general direction of Obama’s plan will come as no surprise to Republicans or Democrats. His budget director, Shaun Donovan, said in October that Obama would write a spending plan that obliterates sequestration.

“Relieving sequester in 2016 and beyond is critical to long-term growth and investment,” Donovan said.

Along with spending above the sequestration limits, his budget will call for a funding reduction of about 20 percent for the Overseas Contingency Operations account that has funded American military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Democrats have long contended that if they can put enough pressure on the Pentagon’s budget, Republicans will eventually agree to boost domestic spending in exchange for more funding for the military.

Obama’s budget would offset the new spending with a mix of increased revenue and cuts elsewhere, the White House said. Obama previously proposed raising $320 billion in taxes over a decade, mostly on top earners, and using most of the proceeds for new tax breaks for two-earner couples, child care and education.

Budget Deficit

One of Obama’s main arguments is that the U.S. can afford to spend on programs he says are vital because the federal deficit has been shrinking. The shortfall in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was $483 billion, or 2.8 percent of gross domestic product, down from a record $1.42 trillion in 2009.

Reaction from Republican leaders raised doubts about the proposal’s reception in Congress.

“Republicans believe there are smarter ways to cut spending than the sequester and have passed legislation to replace it multiple times, only to see the president continue to demand tax hikes,” said Cory Fritz, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. “Until he gets serious about solving our long-term spending problem it’s hard to take him seriously.”

House Democrats are in Philadelphia for their annual policy retreat. Earlier this week, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi successfully lobbied Obama to drop one of his proposals, which would have eliminated a tax break for earnings from college savings accounts known as 529s.

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