In twin strokes, President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to provide generous budget increases to domestic programs while proposing relatively modest cuts to wasteful or obsolete programs that just won’t seem to die.
Officials said Wednesday that Obama’s promised line-by-line scrub of the federal budget had produced a roster of 121 budget cuts totaling $17 billion — or about one-half of 1 percent of the $3.4 trillion budget Congress has approved for next year. The details were being unveiled Thursday.
Those savings are far exceeded by a phone-book-sized volume detailing Obama’s generous increases for domestic programs that will accompany the call for cuts.
Most of the major elements of Obama’s budget for next year were released in February. Additional details were coming out Thursday and next week.
The roster of cuts won’t be easy for Congress to swallow. Lawmakers from the potent California, New York and Florida delegations are sure to fight the elimination of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which gives money to states to help defray the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants who commit crimes. President George W. Bush tried and failed to kill the $400 million program several times.
About half the budget savings would come from an effort by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to curb defense programs, including ending production of the F-22 fighter and killing a much-maligned replacement helicopter fleet for the president.
Budget Director Peter Orszag briefed Democratic lawmakers on a partial roster of the cuts Wednesday. Obama also is fleshing out the details of the $1.3 trillion portion of the budget that he requested Congress pass through appropriations bills for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
And just as Congress is beginning work on a new war bill to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into the fall, Obama is sending up a $130 billion request to fund them next year. That figure may not be adequate considering the increase in the tempo of operations in Afghanistan.
Obama has said repeatedly his administration will go through the budget "line by line" to eliminate waste. But the resulting savings are relatively minor compared with the government’s fiscal woes, especially a deficit that’s likely to exceed $1.5 trillion this year.
Administration and congressional officials described elements of the budget proposals only on condition of anonymity to discuss them before they’re made public.
Republicans weren’t impressed with the cuts.
"While we appreciate the newfound attention to saving taxpayer dollars from this administration, we respectfully suggested that we should do far more," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
Many of the cuts mirror those proposed previously by Bush but largely rejected by Congresses controlled by both Republicans and Democrats.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., said Obama’s recommendations won’t be "universally embraced" but said Congress also would weigh in with savings recommendations of its own to cut spending.
"This is something that’s sorely needed," Cardoza said.
In fact, Democrats already have pared about $10 billion from Obama’s appropriations requests in passing the $3.4 trillion congressional budget plan last month.
And lawmakers are unlikely to go along with a call to raise — after 2010 — per-ticket fees on airline travel to fund airport security programs.
In a preview, administration officials named a few targets Thursday which mostly represented easy-to-pluck targets, like ending the Education Department’s attache in Paris, at a savings of $632,000 a year. Another example: the obsolete LORAN-C aircraft navigation system, which still gets $35 million a year despite being made obsolete by the satellite-based Global Positioning System.
In other budget areas, the administration would keep paying for private-school vouchers for about 1,700 children receiving them in Washington, D.C., an administration official said. Obama is proposing $12.2 million for the 2010-11 school year and would like to continue the funding until the kids in the program graduate. He would not allow new students into the program.