Reporting from Washington — The old Washington axiom — the president proposes and Congress disposes — is never truer than on budget day, and in keeping with tradition, Republican lawmakers are quickly dismissing the Obama White House's first fiscal blueprint.
"It would be better if we did nothing than actually pass this budget," said Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, saying the proposal was "debt on arrival," pun intended.
"It runs the risk of a cataclysmic event," was the response of Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking Republican of the Senate Budget Committee.
"It will fuel more economic uncertainty and make it harder to create new jobs," offered House Speaker John Boehner in a statement.
Even Democrats struggled to enthusiastically endorse the $3.73-trillion spending plan. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reforms, said, "We need a much more robust package of deficit and debt reduction over the medium and long term."
The substance of the critiques focus on the long-term debt outlook, which Republicans say remains perilous even as the White House touts the fact that yearly deficits will be more than halved under the proposals. Speaking with reporters Monday, one senior House Republican budget aide said the United States would be rejected for membership in the European Union because of its staggering debt in relation to gross domestic product.
But the White House sees its budget proposal as simply the starting point in lengthy negotiations with the GOP.
"It's a comprehensive budget, which puts all areas of the budget on the table," Jack Lew, Obama's budget director, told reporters. "It accomplishes the goal of stabilizing our deficit. We now look forward to working with the Congress on all the areas that it covered."
Rep. Ryan said Republicans will not make a counter offer for at least another two months. First, the administration plan must be evaluated by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and then Republicans must work within their caucus to reach consensus on their response.
"I can't tell you what it's going to be. But I got to tell you, we're not interested in punting," Ryan said.
Other battles will be fought in the interim, including one over a measure to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year and another on raising the limit on federal borrowing. House Republicans revised a package of proposed spending cuts to reach the $100-billion level they promised during the 2010 campaign.
The White House, pointing to negotiations on tax rates during the lame-duck session of Congress in December, believes they will ultimately find common ground and pass a budget this year, avoiding a feared government shutdown.
"In the end, you will see that the two parties have to come together," departing Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday. "Even Speaker Boehner has said we have to make some tough decisions around and some tough votes on the debt that require us all to be adult."