US President Barack Obama was expected to take a first step toward national health care yesterday as he presented his first budget, a document also expected to include an additional US$250 billion — if needed — to rescue troubled banks.
The US$3 trillion-plus spending blueprint will be studied for clues on how the president plans to divvy up taxpayer money in the midst of the economic downturn.
A senior administration official discussed the spending plan on Wednesday, saying Obama foresaw a need for US$634 billion over 10 years as a “down payment” on health care reform.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the budget release, said the proposal aimed to start a dialogue with Congress on national health care in one of the last western countries that does not provide it to all citizens.
Obama has also been hammering on the need to slow the rapid increase in medical costs — now at US$2.4 trillion a year.
Yesterday, another top official speaking on condition of anonymity said Obama’s spending outline held out the possibility that another US$250 billion could be needed for the financial sector.
He called the request a “placeholder” while the US Treasury Department tallies how much will be needed.
Budget documents show that Obama will not lay out a detailed blueprint for a health care overhaul, but rather a set of policy principles and ideas for how to raise a big chunk of the money.
Obama is also expected to ask Congress for an additional US$75 billion to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September and to make a tax cut for most workers permanent.
The plan also contains a proposal to raise hundreds of billions of dollars by auctioning permits to exceed carbon emissions caps that Obama wants to set.