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Obama unveils $3.78-trillion budget proposal

The plan includes social safety net changes aimed at drawing Republicans back to the table. It would also provide $130 million sought by Los Angeles to help extend the subway to the Westside.

April 11, 2013|By Kathleen Hennessey and Richard Simon, Washington Bureau
  • President Obama's budget would provide $130 million sought by Los Angeles to help extend the subway to the Westside and build a downtown tunnel to link the Gold Line from Pasadena and East L.A. to the Blue Line from Long Beach and the Expo Line from Culver City.
President Obama's budget would provide $130 million sought by Los… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

WASHINGTON — President Obama laid out his vision Wednesday for $3.78 trillion in federal spending, unveiling a budget proposal for the next fiscal year that aims to reignite cooled deficit reduction talks while opening negotiations over the fate of hundreds of federal programs.

Obama's budget would provide $130 million sought by Los Angeles to help extend the subway to the Westside and build a downtown tunnel to link the Gold Line from Pasadena and East L.A. to the Blue Line from Long Beach and the Expo Line from Culver City.

But it also calls for eliminating $250 million provided this year to help states pay the cost of jailing illegal immigrants, a top priority for California, which received the largest amount.

With his budget, Obama tried to bring Republicans back to the negotiating table by offering what he called "manageable" changes to Social Security and other social safety net programs in exchange for tax increases targeted primarily at the wealthy.

In announcing his plan, the president portrayed himself as staking out the middle ground.

"I don't believe that all these ideas are optimal, but I'm willing to accept them as part of a compromise if — and only if — they contain protections for the most vulnerable Americans," he said.

Aside from the cuts, Obama's budget seeks to create jobs and build infrastructure through new investments that would pump up the delivery of some federal services. It would include a dramatic expansion of preschool and all-day kindergarten at a cost of $78 billion over 10 years, to be paid by a 94-cent increase in the tobacco tax.

The proposed new spending, however, appeared to do little to soften the blow for liberals.

"While I appreciate President Obama's genuine effort to yet again go the extra mile to find common ground with Republicans in Congress and get Washington working again, I am disappointed that misplaced cuts to our nation's social safety net are so front and center," Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) said in a statement.

The presentation of the president's 244-page budget, an annual Washington ritual, was more than just the White House's latest political tool. The fiscal year 2014 budget dives deep into the federal weeds.

In another cut that could hit California, Obama proposed eliminating the $10 million provided to states to help pay for water-quality monitoring and public notification programs at beaches.

"The proposed cuts in beach water-quality and monitoring programs may come at a heavy cost," said Matthew King, a spokesman for Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay. "If agencies have to cut back or cease monitoring for bacterial pollution along shorelines, it poses a public health risk for the millions of people who visit California beaches each year."

Obama's budget calls for $40 billion over five years for high-speed and intercity rail. California officials say they have no plans to seek federal funds next year for their controversial bullet train project. Even so, the proposed spending is likely to run into stiff opposition from House Republicans, including California lawmakers.

The budget also includes funding for a new "America Fast Forward" bond program, named after one pushed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to speed up transit projects, but it calls for a lower federal subsidy than L.A. officials have sought.

For the federal agencies, Obama's budget adheres to the climate of restraint that has dominated Washington since Republicans took control of the House in 2010. But for many programs, the president's request represents a step upward in a slow climb back toward the spending levels of a few years ago.

For the National Park Service, Obama requested $2.6 billion for fiscal year 2014, which starts in October, bringing spending back to 2011 levels, but still below the $2.75 billion spent in 2010.

For the National Institutes of Health, Obama requested a 1.5% boost over the 2012 budget, allowing increased spending on brain and Alzheimer's research. But funding has been essentially flat for the last decade, said Dr. Francis Collins, the director.

"We are always in the position of making the case for what we could do if the resources were available," he said. "And then we have to settle for what is possible."

Republicans called Obama's efforts at deficit reduction insufficient. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) belittled them as "minuscule," casting doubt on the chances for a budget deal this summer. "We had hoped the president would have done something larger than this," he said.

The House Republican budget proposal, released this year, would balance the budget in 10 years, in part by turning Medicare into a voucher-style system and cutting spending on Medicaid.

The president suggests smaller, incremental reforms to curb rising healthcare costs. Obama's budget also would slow cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients, veterans and others who receive government benefits. Under his plan, the deficit would be $439 billion — about half the current figure — in 10 years.

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

richard.simon@latimes.com

Christi Parsons and Lisa Mascaro in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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