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Obama's budget: Election-year themes to rally Dems

Wednesday - 3/5/2014, 3:34am  ET

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2014 file photo, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. listens on Capitol Hill in Washington. Striving for unity among Democrats rather than compromise with Republicans, President Barack Obama unveils an election-year budget on Tuesday that drops cuts to Social Security and seeks new money for infrastructure, education and job training. Congress will likely approve a smaller amount based on last year's budget deal. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

ANDREW TAYLOR
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's election-year budget seeks to rally fellow Democrats with new help for the working poor and fresh money for road-building, education and research. It also pulls back from controversial cuts to Social Security that had been designed to lure Republicans to the bargaining table.

Otherwise, Tuesday's $3.9 trillion submission for the 2015 budget year, which begins in October, looks a lot like Obama's previous plans. It combines proposals for more than $1.1 trillion in tax increases on the wealthy with an array of modest initiatives such as job training funds, money to rehabilitate national parks and funding for early childhood education.

"Our budget is about choices. It's about our values," Obama said at a Washington elementary school. "As a country, we've got to make a decision, if we're going to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans or if we're going to make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy and expand opportunity for every American."

Obama's previous budgets have mostly gone nowhere, and that's where Tuesday's submission appears to be headed as well. Instead, Congress is likely to adhere to last year's mini budget deal as it looks ahead to midterm elections this fall.

Said Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee: "This budget isn't a serious document; it's a campaign brochure."

The president unveiled his budget eight months before congressional elections in which Republicans are expected to gain seats in the House and have a chance of seizing control of the Senate. GOP control of Congress in the final two years of his presidency would leave his agenda in tatters.

Obama's submission purports to adhere to the budget limits negotiated in December by Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. But it also proposes a $55 billion "Opportunity, Growth, and Security" fund that would supplement the 2015 limit on agency operating budgets set by the Ryan-Murray agreement. Half of the additional money would be for defense and half for domestic programs. And the increase would continue into the future. All told, Obama proposes $304 billion above existing limits on agency operating budgets over the coming five years, an almost 6 percent increase.

This includes extra spending for the Pentagon for readiness, repair of deteriorating military bases and the purchase of aircraft. On the domestic front, the plan promises grants to states for preschools, new research financed by the National Institutes of Health and modernization of aviation safety systems, among other initiatives.

The White House also is dropping a proposal to reduce the annual inflation increases for people on Social Security. This proposed "chained CPI" change is seen as a no-brainer by budget hawks, and was a key request of Republicans in previous, failed rounds of budget talks. But it was widely panned by most Democrats and allies including the AFL-CIO. The White House says it remains on the table if Republicans want to pursue a "grand bargain" on the budget that would include tax increases.

The Obama budget projects a 2015 deficit of $564 billion and a shortfall this year of $649 billion. If those come true, it would mark three straight years of annual red ink under $1 trillion, following four previous years when deficits exceeded that mark every time.

Overall, the 2015 budget projects a $250 billion increase in spending over the record $3.65 trillion expected for the current year. Spending actually dropped to $3.46 trillion in the 2013 fiscal year completed last Sept. 30.

Republicans instead want Obama to join them in taking on expensive benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security, whose growth is driving future deficits and squeezing other priorities like defense, education, transportation and research. Medicare costs are projected to almost double over the coming decade, from $513 billion this year to $947 billion in 2024, but funding for non-defense programs appropriated by Congress would increase by less than inflation.

"The president has just three years left in his administration, and yet he seems determined to do nothing about our fiscal challenges," said Ryan, who was Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate in the 2012 national election.

But many Republicans complained that the $496 billion proposed for Department of Defense core operations -- a freeze at current levels -- falls woefully short. The proposal would shrink the Army from 490,000 active-duty soldiers to 440,000-450,000 over the coming five years, take away helicopters and other equipment from the National Guard, cut purchases of the much-criticized littoral combat ship by almost 40 percent and retire the Air Force's A-10 attack aircraft.

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