The White House released its big budget proposal today for fiscal year 2012, which begins in October. There's been talk about major cuts the administration would be making, and this proposal would supposedly cut $1.1 trillion in deficits over the next ten years. It mostly accomplishes that through a five-year spending cap on non-defense discretionary funding, an area that only accounts for 12% of the budget anyway and isn't related to America's long-term debt problems. But it may make President Obama seem tough to Washington Post columnists, so it must be done!
The budget calls for $3.73 trillion in spending in the next fiscal year and projects a $1.65 trillion deficit. But it would apparently be the last year of deficits over $1 trillion as the economy is expected to start growing and boosting tax receipts. We'll see! Our economy doesn't really like growing, is the problem.
And what are the big tough deadly dangerous cuts that the White House is proposing to keep discretionary spending under its cap? The two most prominent are, as we learned last week, cutting a couple billion in heating aid for poor people, and excluding certain students from Pell Grant eligibility. From the New York Times:
Among the losers are some "things that I care deeply about," Mr. Obama added, including programs that he had expanded in the past: Home-heating aid to poor families and community-service block grants would be cut in half, and a multistate Great Lakes cleanup project would lose one-quarter of its money, compared with 2010.
Pell grants for needy college students would be eliminated for summer classes, and federal loans to graduate students would start accruing interest immediately, rather than when the students graduate, though they would not have to begin paying them off until graduation. Those changes are intended to help save $100 billion over 10 years to offset the costs of maintaining Pell grants for 9 million students, according to administration officials.
Republicans, meanwhile, don't think these cuts go nearly far enough. They want to cut more discretionary programs, because it's very important to them that the budget deficit be $1.6 trillion instead of $1.7 trillion as we "tighten our belts." The White House's strategy with this budget, though, was to selectively leak a couple of terrifying cut proposals — the "no heat for poor people" item, specifically — that land with such a nasty, visceral thump that any cuts Republicans tack on additionally would seem needlessly draconian. In other words, Obama and his advisers have decided that he needs to punch a few poor people, or — better yet! — freeze them to death, in order to position himself as Tough On Spending. Is this what you want, independent voters who barely ever pay attention to politics? Because he's only engaging in this dumb little routine to win you back.
Republican lawmakers criticized Mr. Obama for failing to spell out how to reduce entitlement spending.
"We're not having any leadership" at all, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate budget committee said on CNN. "I do believe he deserves serious criticism for that."
Mr. Sessions added his party stood ready to begin negotiations with Mr. Obama on overhauling the entitlement programs Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.
Republicans want President Obama to introduce a plan for cutting entitlements entirely on his own, before (or if) they ever get their fingerprints on it. Because cutting entitlements is a horribly unpopular thing to do, and if you can con the other party's president into doing it with taunts about showing "leadership," then that's a real coup.
But don't take everything in this proposal too seriously. We have too many months of bizarre posturing and opposition-framing left to know anything for sure.
[Image via AP]