By Don Miller
President Barack Obama sent lawmakers a budget package today (Thursday) that proposes to shrink or eliminate 121 federal programs and save almost $17 billion in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. But the budget plan contains cuts that will face vigorous opposition in Congress and fierce resistance from special interest groups.
The package of proposed reductions fills in the fine print of a $3.55 trillion budget outline approved by lawmakers in April that contains Obama's top agenda items, including a healthcare overhaul, a push for renewable, clean-energy sources and changes in education funding.
The President wants to cut or end a number of programs that he feels are wasteful or ineffective to take the first toward getting spending under control. But the administration's attempt at bringing fiscal discipline to Washington has already been met with skepticism by analysts.
"Every government program - no matter how wasteful - will be defended by its recipients and congressional champions," Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based research group told Bloomberg News. "Unless Obama puts the weight of the White House behind his spending cuts, Congress will ignore them."
The cuts are miniscule compared to the overall budget package and deficits that will be ushered in the next few years. The $787 billion stimulus package Obama pushed through Congress combined with the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout will come on top of the $1 trillion deficit the administration inherited when he took office in January.
Total savings from the cuts, even if they were accepted by Congress in their entirety, would represent a paltry 0.4% of the overall budget. The Congressional Budget Office projects the deficit will be $1.85 trillion this year, about four times the previous record, and $1.38 trillion in fiscal 2010.
"Even if you got all of those things, it would be saving pennies, not dollars. And you're not going to begin to get all of them," Isabel Sawhill, a Brookings Institution economist who waged her own battles with Congress as a senior official in the Clinton White House budget office, told the Washington Post. "This is a good government exercise without much prospect of putting a significant dent in spending."
Only about 80 of the proposed cuts are new - the others had been previously revealed. And most of the cuts will be from the "discretionary" budget, avoiding the so-called untouchable "third-rail" entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare.
Those two programs account for more than 40% of government spending, meaning the more difficult work on deficit reductions has been left for another day.
"More serious efforts at deficit reduction are going to require entitlement and tax reform - that's where most of the money is." Marc Goldwein, policy director of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget, a Washington-based research group, told Bloomberg. "To really get the deficit under control, we're going to have to start thinking bigger," he said.
But some in Congress defended the administration's approach, saying the list of program reductions is just the start of a more comprehensive effort to cut spending and pull the reins on the skyrocketing deficit.
"It depends on what it means over the scope of five and 10 years." Representative John Larson (D-Conn.) told Bloomberg. It's a "deep, cavernous hole where we have been left, we're looking a long way up but it's a steady climb" using the budget plan agreed to by Obama and Congress, he said.
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