When you have a quarter of the nation’s $17 trillion economy to play with, it’s inevitable that you and your political opponents will clash over what to do with the money.
President Barack Obama’s nearly $4 trillion budget for 2016, with the thumbs-down it got from Republican leaders, is no different. But while such partisan clashes are important, smaller tidbits can be just as interesting.
Here are five things great and small about the president’s spending plan and the GOP reaction to it.
GAMES BUDGETS PLAY
To be precise, Obama’s budget claims 2016 spending of $3.999 trillion.
Is it a coincidence that the total falls just below the more attention-grabbing figure of $4 trillion?
All but certainly not. For years, smart budget geeks from both parties have figured out ways to make numbers less troublesome. Intentional or not, Obama’s budget contains an example.
Among his initiatives are two Commerce Department programs aimed at helping young technology firms develop products that can be manufactured in the U.S.
Conveniently, neither one starts spending money until 2017. That means no pesky 2016 expenditures that might help tip that year’s overall spending total to $4 trillion and beyond.
CLIMATE CHANGE: NO SMALL CHANGE FOR TAXPAYERS
While many Republicans consider climate change a liberal fiction aimed at hurting the coal industry, Obama’s budget argues that the extreme conditions it’s causing are already costing taxpayers money. The price tag: $300 billion over the past decade.
More than half that cost — $179 billion — comes from the government’s response to hurricanes and other disasters. Other major expenditures the budget attributes to extreme weather and rising sea levels including crop insurance, flood insurance and battling wildfires.
The budget also cites $64 million repairing damage torrential rains caused to a military installation in the Southwest and unspecified spending boosts for health care and mushrooming overseas conflicts. It even expects growing expenditures for protecting endangered species, citing declining populations of Edith’s checkerspot butterfly.
FEDERAL DEFICITS — SMALL ENOUGH?
Obama’s budget projects a $474 billion deficit for 2016, the lowest it’s been since 2008.
That is a huge improvement over the recession-fueled shortfalls of Obama’s first four years in office, when the red ink exceeded $1 trillion annually. It’s also small enough compared to the overall size of the economy that many economists consider it manageable.
Republicans say the shortfalls are too big and moving the wrong way.
Keep in mind — that $474 billion deficit is bigger than every deficit in history before the Great Recession of 2008. And Obama’s own budget foresees the red ink growing again by this decade’s end.
LET’S HELP THE MIDDLE CLASS. OK, BUT HOW?
Both parties say they want to help the middle class, where most voters come from. But their recipes differ.
Obama’s budget is largely about cutting taxes for middle-income families and boosting spending for roads, community colleges and other things that he thinks will prod economic growth. He’d pay for it largely with $2 trillion in 10-year tax increases, mostly on the rich and corporations but also on cigarette smokers.
Republicans think the real problem is too much spending and a national debt that keeps ballooning. Republicans say they will produce a budget that balances within a decade. Instead of tax increases, they want to squeeze savings from benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Some details inside of Obama’s $2 trillion tax increase are worth mentioning.
Donors to colleges who in return can buy tickets to the school’s sporting events would no longer be able to deduct those contributions from their taxes.
While the government taxes distilled spirits $13.50 per proof gallon, the taxes are reduced for such liquor that is flavored with wine or other additives. Obama would eliminate that tax reduction.
And while it’s a misdemeanor — punishable with up to a year in prison — to purposely not file a tax return, Obama would make doing so for three out of five years a felony. That could be up to five years in prison.
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