US President Barack Obama proposed new tax credits and job-training programs for US workers on Tuesday in a budget for next year that drew instant condemnation from Republicans, who dismissed the document as an election-year campaign pitch.
The US$3.9 trillion blueprint for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 also would boost spending on roads and bridges and expand early-childhood education, while paying for some of the additional spending by scaling back tax breaks for wealthier Americans.
The proposal has almost no chance of passage in the US Congress, where Republicans control the US House of Representatives, but it lays out Obama’s policy priorities ahead of November’s congressional elections. Democrats will be fighting to keep control of the US Senate and avoid losing ground in the House.
“Our budget is about choices, it’s about our values,” Obama told reporters during a visit to an elementary school. “At a time when our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years, we’ve got to decide if we’re going to keep squeezing the middle class or if we’re going to continue to reduce the deficits responsibly while taking steps to grow and strengthen the middle class.”
While working within the overall cap of US$1.014 trillion for discretionary spending that Congress set for next year, the president proposed US$56 billion in additional spending for education, welfare and defense programs, paid for in part by ending a tax break for wealthy retirees.
Republicans objected to the plan’s spending increases and said it did not address larger fiscal challenges related to the Social Security retirement program and Medicare and Medicaid healthcare for the elderly people, poor people and people with disabilities.
“After years of fiscal and economic mismanagement, the president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “Spending too much, borrowing too much and taxing too much, it would hurt our economy and cost jobs.”
Democrats hope to draw a contrast with the Republicans’ focus on restraint and portray themselves as better able to deliver jobs.
The proposal signaled a shift from last year’s emphasis on deficit cutting to a greater focus on fighting poverty, a goal the president is highlighting as he eyes his legacy with fewer than three years left in office.
Republicans, cognizant of Americans’ slow recovery from the 2007 to 2009 recession, also have focused on poverty-reduction, but they favor a dramatically smaller government role.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a potential Republican presidential contender in 2016, argued in a report on Monday that the US government had barely made a dent in combating poverty in the past 50 years despite massive spending. He blasted Obama’s Tuesday proposal.
“This budget isn’t a serious document; it’s a campaign brochure,” said Ryan, who said he will unveil a Republican budget as a counter to Obama’s in the coming weeks.
Obama’s budget proposes expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, an anti-poverty measure that is meant to encourage low-income Americans to continue working.
The change would expand the program to cover about 13.5 million people who do not have children and make it available to younger workers who are not currently eligible.
The expansion, which would cost US$60 billion, would be funded by closing loopholes such as the tax break for “carried interest,” profits earned by wealthy investors who run private equity and other funds.
Obama has long sought to end that tax break, which allows financiers to treat their income as capital gains, making it subject to a tax rate of 20 percent instead of the nearly 40 percent rate on ordinary income paid by the highest earners.