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Long IslandPolitics

House, Senate, Obama in sync on $3.55-trillion budget

WASHINGTON - As the congressional debate over President Obama's $3.55-trillion budget gets underway, the White House acknowledges that it won't get a Xerox copy of its plans from Congress, but says House and Senate budget writers are "98%" in sync with the president's outline.

"We are very pleased that the House and Senate budget committees are taking up resolutions that are fully in line with the president's key priorities for the budget," Peter Orszag, director of the president's Office of Management and Budget, said today.

"They are 98% the same as the budget proposal the president sent up in February," Orszag said in a conference call with reporters this morning. "The resolutions may not be identical twins to what the president submitted, but they are certainly brothers that look alike."

Both House and Senate budget committee proposals meet the president's goal of cutting the federal budget deficit in half by 2013, he said. The president, anticipating a deficit of $1.17 trillion in 2010, proposes cutting that to $533 billion by 2013. Orszag said that both House and Senate plans come close to that target.

In "discretionary" spending -- portions of the budget outside of mandatory entitlement spending and debt payments over which lawmakers have control -- the House and Senate plans line up in most of 18 areas, holding the increase to less than 1% - with "some differences, but relatively modest," Orszag said.

The drafting of a budget by Democratic-run committees marks only the start of a congressional debate, however, with Republican leaders criticizing the president's spending and deficits as unsupportable during a deep recession.

"It's easy to lob criticisms," Orszag said, adding that he hasn't seen "an alternative budget" in the Senate.

The president, calling passage of his budget initiatives in education, energy and healthcare crucial for the nation's long-term economic health, acknowledges that he faces a congressional debate over the $3.55-trillion spending plan for 2010.

"We never expected when we printed out our budget that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it," Obama said during his prime-time televised news conference Tuesday night.

Yet the president insists on meeting a set of "expectations" in the budget debate.

"I've emphasized repeatedly what I expect out of this budget," Obama said. "I expect that there's serious efforts at healthcare reform and that we are driving down costs for families and businesses and ultimately for the federal and state governments that are going to be broke if we continue on the current path.

Orszag said today that all four principles which the president has identified -- boosting spending on education, energy and healthcare and cutting the deficit over four years -- are met in the resolutions that the budget committees are launching this week.

mdsilva@tribune.com

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