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House, Senate budgets in line with Obama's plan, aide says

The Congressional budget committees' proposals meet the president's goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2013 and target key priorities such as healthcare.

March 26, 2009|Mark Silva and Janet Hook

WASHINGTON — Pressing Congress for a record $3.55-trillion federal budget, President Obama on Wednesday made a personal appeal to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have been enmeshed in crafting their own budget plans.

Obama's presence may have paid off. Hours later, the House Budget Committee approved a $3.6-trillion version of his plan on a party-line vote.

"It was vintage Obama," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said of the earlier closed-door Senate Democratic caucus meeting with the president. "He made us all feel content and inspired by where we need to go."

Republicans, complaining about the president's spending and projected deficits, accused Democratic leaders of drafting resolutions that hide the cost of Obama's agenda.

The president had made a pitch for his budget Tuesday to the public with a prime-time news conference. Obama framed his initiatives on healthcare, energy and education as long-term investments crucial to the nation's economic strength.

On Wednesday, Obama carried his case to Capitol Hill, where not only Republicans, but also conservative Democrats in the House and Senate, are questioning the proposed spending and record deficits.

The president's budget director suggested that congressional budget writers were hewing closely to Obama's budget proposal.

"They are 98% the same as the budget proposal the president sent up in February," Peter R. Orszag, director of the president's Office of Management and Budget, said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. "The resolutions may not be identical twins to what the president submitted, but they are certainly brothers that look an awful lot alike."

Obama arrived late for the closed meeting with Senate Democrats and stayed for less than an hour. He emphasized that he wanted Congress to preserve his priorities -- education, health, energy and deficit reduction -- but said that he would be flexible about the details.

"He understands how the process works," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said after the meeting. "He kicked off; we received and will move the ball down the field. He may not like all of our plays."

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said after the caucus meeting with Obama: "We have attempted to preserve, and I think have preserved, the president's key priorities."

Several senators spoke to or questioned the president, but only one posed a challenge to his budget. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) questioned the wisdom of proposed taxes on the oil and gas industry, which is crucial to her home state's economy.

"He said he would be open to our suggestions," Landrieu said. "But he didn't give a complete concession."

The resolutions that the House and Senate committees are producing are nonbinding guidelines that set spending limits on the budget that Congress will later approve for the 2010 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

The Senate Budget Committee plans to produce a resolution today, with Reid predicting passage by the full Senate next week.

Neither the House nor Senate resolutions extend the president's middle-class tax cuts beyond 2010. Obama secured the cuts -- $800 for couples and $400 for individuals -- in his $787-billion economic stimulus plan last month.

Orszag said both House and Senate budget resolutions meet the president's goal of cutting the federal budget deficit in half by 2013.

The president, anticipating a deficit of $1.17 trillion in 2010, promised to cut that to $533 billion by the end of his term in 2013 -- a level still greater than any of the record deficits that former President George W. Bush reported.

The Congressional Budget Office, which Orszag once ran, projects that deficits in the coming decade will run higher than the White House has forecast, including a $1.4-trillion deficit in 2010. The White House disputes the number.

Republicans complain that Democratic leaders, despite any differences with the White House, essentially are doing Obama's bidding. Democrats are criticizing Republicans for lacking an alternative plan.

"The majority has already begun its strenuous claim that this is not the president's budget, that it dramatically reduces the spending, deficit and debt levels of the administration fiscal plan," Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told the House Budget Committee. "But, in fact, when you examine the real elements of the budget . . . this really is the president's high-cost, big-government agenda in camouflage."

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mdsilva@tribune.com

janet.hook@latimes.com

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