Obama stakes out budget-battle turf

First Posted: 2/4/2015

During a drop-by last month at a Senate Democratic retreat in Baltimore, President Barack Obama told fellow party members that he wasn’t going to spend his final two years in office on the defensive. “I’m going to play offense,” he vowed.

So it was Monday that the president chose the Department of Homeland Security as the backdrop for releasing his proposed fiscal year 2016 budget. It was his not-so-subtle way of rebuking Republicans for threatening to cut DHS funding to block his executive actions on immigration.

Even without Obama’s political theatrics, the $4 trillion budget he unveiled was almost certain to receive an unfavorable reception by the GOP-controlled Congress. Indeed, it would raise federal taxes by $2 trillion, increase government spending by $74 billion, and add another $474 billion in fiscal 2016 to the $6.6 trillion in debt the president has amassed since moving into the White House in 2009.

The devil is always in the budgetary details.

Obama proposes a six-year $478 billion infrastructure program for freeways, bridges and mass transit, to which the GOP could be amenable. However, there’s no way Republicans will agree to the president’s proposal to finance the new spending with a one-time 14 percent tax — due immediately — on overseas earnings of U.S. companies.

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would no doubt support Obama’s proposal to increase defense spending by $38 billion by raising the cap imposed by sequestration. But not if it’s contingent upon agreeing to raise the cap by $37 billion for additional domestic spending.

Because federal law has since 1921 required the president to submit a budget request to Congress by the first Monday in February, it gives the chief executive the opportunity — however brief — to make his case for what he believes should be the nation’s budget priorities.

Obama made his case Monday. Now the onus is upon Republicans on Capitol Hill to counter with a budget plan of their own making.

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