WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama sent Congress a $3.73-trillion budget yesterday that holds out the prospect of eventually bringing deficits under control through spending cuts and tax increases. But the fiscal blueprint largely ignores his own deficit commission's view that the nation is imperiled unless huge entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare are slashed.
Obama called his new budget one of "tough choices and sacrifices," but most of those cuts would be held off until after the next presidential election.
Overall, Obama proposed trimming the deficits by $1.1 trillion over a decade. The administration is projecting that the deficit will hit an all-time high of $1.65 trillion this year and then drop sharply to $1.1 trillion in 2012, with an expected improvement in the economy and as reductions in Social Security withholding and business taxes expire.
Obama's 2012 budget would actually add $8 billion to the projected deficit for that year because the bulk of the savings he would achieve through a freeze in many domestic programs would be devoted to increased spending in areas Obama considers priorities, such as education, clean energy and high-speed rail.
"We have more work to do to live up to our promise by repairing the damage this brutal recession has inflicted on our people," Obama said.
The president went to a middle school outside of Baltimore to highlight the education initiatives in his budget and told the crowd, "We can't sacrifice our future."
Republicans, who took control of the House in the November elections and picked up seats in the Senate in part because of voter anger over the soaring deficits, called Obama's efforts too timid. Lawmakers are set to begin debating today $61 billion in cuts for the remaining seven months of fiscal 2011.
"Presidents are elected to lead and address big challenges," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). "The big challenge facing our economy today and our country tomorrow is the debt crisis. He's making it worse, not better."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the president's investment plans missed the simple point that "we don't have the money" to finance Obama's vision of ""trains and windmills" in the future.
"After two years of failed stimulus programs and Democrats in Washington competing to outspend each other, we just can't afford to do all the things the administration wants," McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
Even some Democrats complained that Obama needed a more vigorous attack on future budget deficits.