POLITICS
01/29/2015 05:58 am ET Updated Jan 29, 2015

Obama Wants To End The Era Of Sequestration

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will propose a budget on Monday that calls for an estimated 6.8 percent increase in discretionary spending -- an approach diametrically different from the last time Democrats sustained major midterm election losses.

The spending proposal will almost assuredly get strong pushback from Republicans in Congress, who now control both the House and the Senate and wield even more power than they did four years ago. For that reason alone, the budget is another sign of a president feeling unhindered in his final years of office and eager to take advantage of an improving economy.

Details of the budget have been guarded closely by administration and Capitol Hill officials. But sources on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue said Obama will propose increasing discretionary spending by about $70 billion (several sources cautioned the proposed increase likely will be slightly less). The money would be divided equally between defense and non-defense accounts.

Senior White House adviser John Podesta has been briefing lawmakers on budget specifics, according to a top Democrat on Capital Hill. A bigger reveal is expected on Thursday, when Obama delivers remarks to the House Democratic Caucus in Philadelphia.

“The President will propose to end the across-the-board sequester cuts that threaten our economy and our military," a White House official said. "The President’s budget will fully reverse those cuts for domestic priorities, and match those investments dollar-for-dollar with the resources our troops need to keep America safe.”

An administration official told The Huffington Post that the spending additions the president will outline -- which appear larger than those he proposed in last year's budget -- would be offset by cutting spending and closing tax loopholes. The overall budget, the official added, would have measures to reduce the deficit through a similar combination of savings.

For Republicans, the proposal will likely be perceived as fiscally reckless, if not politically brazen. After all, it was the GOP wins in the 2010 election that set the stage for sequestration's across-the-board budget cuts in the first place.

After that election cycle, Obama attempted to craft several debt-reduction deals with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as a nod to conservative victories. But the deals never came to fruition. And in the summer of 2011, as the debt ceiling was nearly breached, the two sides fell back on an exchange that neither truly liked.

Under The Budget Control Act of 2011, spending was reduced by nearly $1 trillion and Congress created the so-called Super Committee to find roughly $1.5 trillion more in savings. When the committee failed to find consensus, mandatory sequestration cuts kicked in, forcing more than $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years. Sequestration was delayed a few months starting at the beginning of 2013. But by March of that year, it was law of the land.

Though Republicans have lamented sequestration's effects on defense operations -- and some have worried about non-defense programs in their districts -- they have largely resisted proposals to replace sequestration with any package that includes tax hikes.

With the president now proposing to do just that, it’s hard to see how a budget agreement will be hashed out.

“Republicans believe there are smarter ways to cut spending than the sequester and have passed legislation to replace it multiple times, only to see the president continue to demand tax hikes," said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Boehner. "Until he gets serious about solving our long-term spending problem it’s hard to take him seriously."

But Obama also may find critics of his budget proposal on his side of the aisle -- for not being bolder. A roughly $70 billion increase may seem healthy, if not daring. But as The New York Times noted, it represents a small portion of a budget expected to reach $3.9 trillion, and it comes at a time when the deficit is shrinking. Senate Budget Committee ranking member Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for one, has called for a major government investment in infrastructure and other domestic priorities well beyond where the Obama administration appears willing to go.

The administration’s hope is that somewhere in the ideological middle (albeit closer to the liberal side of the divide), there will be enough lawmakers to forge a majority.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) were able to craft a deal to alleviate some of the budget cuts brought on by sequestration in December 2013. A request for comment from Ryan’s office was not returned late Wednesday night.

But the Murray-Ryan deal only lasts for two years. And come fiscal 2016, which starts in October, budget caps will return –- ensuring that federal spending will be essentially flat.

According to numbers put forth by House Democrats on the Budget Committee, defense and non-defense discretionary spending caps were $1.014 trillion in fiscal 2015. They are estimated to be $1.106 trillion in fiscal 2016.

UPDATE: 12:30 p.m. -- A White House official emailed HuffPost more specific details about the spending increases the president will propose in his budget:

The President’s Budget proposes about $74 billion more in discretionary investments than would be allowed under sequestration in 2016, a roughly seven percent increase over the sequestration level. This includes $530 on the non-defense discretionary side, an increase of $37 billion over the spending caps, and $561 billion in defense spending, an increase of $38 billion over the spending caps.

HuffPost

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