President Barack Obama checked off another “last” of his White House tenure Tuesday, submitting his final budget proposal to Congress amid the growing din from the campaign trail.
The $4.1 trillion annual budget plan – nearly always deemed “dead on arrival” to the Republican-controlled Congress – appeared particularly lifeless this year: Republicans said before the document even arrived they would break the long precedent of hearing from the President’s budget chief as they draft their own fiscal blueprint.
Like lame-duck presidents before him, Obama submitted a final budget that includes funding for his top legacy priorities, including combating climate change and expanding health insurance coverage. The plan seeks to increase revenue from taxes by $2.6 trillion over the next decade, largely by changing tax laws.
Obama’s budget drafters said the deficit would decrease in the next fiscal year, which begins in October, going from $616 billion to $503 billion. Over the next decade, though, they said the deficit would increase amid increased spending on older Americans’ health care.
“The budget is a road map to a future that embodies America’s values and aspirations: a future of opportunity and security for all of our families; a rising standard of living; and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids,” Obama wrote in a message to lawmakers. “This future is within our reach. But just as it took the collective efforts of the American people to rise from the recession and rebuild an even stronger economy, so will it take all of us working together to meet the challenges that lie ahead.”
In parts, the document reads like a “good riddance” letter to a GOP-led Congress that’s offered Obama little in terms of bipartisan compromise. A $10.25-per-barrel fee on oil, meant to pay for needed infrastructure projects and a transition to green transportation systems, only enraged Republicans when it was announced last week. An increase in funding to Wall Street regulators is also unlikely to meet approval from the GOP, as is a $1.3 billion request for accelerating the use of clean energy sources.
But in other areas, Obama’s budget contains items both sides agree must take priority in the year ahead. That includes $1 billion in new funding for treating opioid addiction, a national epidemic that’s taken prominence on the presidential campaign trail, and another billion for cancer research as part of Vice President Joe Biden’s “moonshot” initiative.
It also includes bolstering spending on national security priorities, including $7.5 billion in new spending to combat ISIS and $3.4 billion to step up military presence in Europe in a bid to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another $19 billion would go toward bolstering the country’s cybersecurity through updating information technology systems.
Those areas of potential agreement, however, won’t be explored in the usual hearings on Capitol Hill featuring Obama’s budget chief. The Republican chairmen of the Senate and House budget committees said last week they were forgoing the decades-long tradition of hearing testimony from the director of the Office of Management and Budget, claiming they expected Obama’s budget to offer little in debt reduction.
“It is clear that this President will not put forth the budget effort that our times and our country require. Instead of hearing from an administration unconcerned with our $19 trillion in debt, we should focus on how to reform America’s broken budget process and restore the trust of hardworking taxpayers,” the Senate Budget Chairman Sen. Mike Enzi wrote.
The decision enraged Democrats, who said the decision broke four decades of precedent. Democrats on the Senate Budget panel noted that a hearing on the President’s budget request was held even in 2004, when toxic ricin was found in a Senate office mail room.
“Even under those extraordinary circumstances, the committee carried out its duties,” the panel’s Democrats said. “The year, with no unusual circumstances to prevent us from doing our work, we have been provided with no reasonable explanation for the decision not to hold a hearing,” wrote Democratic members of the House Budget panel.
Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said the Republicans’ refusal to hold the traditional budget hearing “does raise some questions about how serious Republicans actually are about governing the country.”
“Maybe they’re taking the Donald Trump approach to debates about the budget – they’re just not going to show up,” Earnest said last week.