Obama’s New Budget Promises Opportunity – and a Tough Political Battle

President Obama plans to execute his ambitious agenda to promote “opportunity for all” by the numbers.

The president on Tuesday sent Congress a $3.9 trillion budget plan that proposes increased spending for his domestic priorities - education, job training, infrastructure and health care, among others - and seeks to finance such initiatives by eliminating tax breaks for wealthy Americans, corporations and the like. Instead of deficit reduction being its primary focus, Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget, which starts on Oct. 1, would continue his mission to address income inequality and offer opportunities for economic uplift. Administration officials maintain that it also targets programs to advance low- and middle-income African American families, including funding for college education and minority businesses.

With the looming mid-term elections, the president’s proposal marks the beginning of yet another battle with the GOP. Although the Republican-led Congress will most certainly jam the measure, Democrats will use the plan to sway voters by painting the opposition as the draconian alternative.

The White House de-emphasized deficit reduction in their budget offering due to math and stats. For instance, administration officials recently noted such urgency has been eased by the independent Congressional Budget Office forecast last month that the federal deficit will come in at $514 billion for fiscal 2014 – the lowest level since Obama took office five years ago. Moreover, a February Gallup poll revealed that only 8% of Americans viewed budget or deficit issues as the main challenge confronting our nation.

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The fact that the president decided not to tackle changes in mammoth entitlement programs like a reduction in Social Security cost-of-living-increases – a point of negotiation with the GOP during the start of his second term – has rankled scores of legislators across the aisle. But after years of spending cuts, tax increases and economic growth, the Obama budget projects that the federal deficit will fall to $649 billion in 2014 and then to $564 billion in 2015 – less than half of the $1.2 trillion deficit that Obama inherited when he entered the Oval Office.

“Our budget is about choices, it’s about our values,” Obama stressed as he visited potential beneficiaries at a Washington, D.C. 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.”

“At a time when our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years,” he continued “we got to decide if we’re going to keep squeezing the middle class, or if we’re going to continue to reduce deficits responsibly while taking steps to grow and strengthen the middle class. The American people have made clear time and again which approach they prefer – that’s the approach my budget offers.”

In a written statement, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has clearly drawn budget battle lines: “After years of fiscal and economic mismanagement, the president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet. American families looking for jobs and opportunity will find only more government in this plan. Spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much, it would hurt our economy and cost jobs.”

The GOP will continue to employ such rhetoric to batter Obama’s fiscal credibility, especially when Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisconsin), chairman of the House Budget Committee and former vice presidential candidate, presents the GOP plan next month.

During his speech at the Democratic National Committee Winter meeting last week in Washington, D.C., Obama addressed such assertions even before unveiling his budget: “Just last month, their party actually made it a part of their platform to let folks at the very top play by a different set of rules, and avoid paying their fair share by stashing their money in overseas tax havens, a practice that also adds billions to our deficits every year.” In fact, the president plans to offset the cost of his massive program, in part, by imposing a federal tax on tobacco products and overhauling the corporate tax code to eliminate loopholes.

The White House further argues its budget “builds on bipartisan progress,” adhering to the 2015 spending levels that Democrats and Republicans agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. The administration also maintains that they’ve fully paid for the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs.

According to the White House, the plan will fund a myriad of initiatives that should prove beneficial for large numbers of minority businesses and African American families. They include investment in a national network of 45 advanced manufacturing hubs; funding small businesses by offering billions in loan guarantees; expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers from $500 to $1,000; continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act; and supporting early childhood education and K-12 programs as well as providing funding for College Success Grants for students at HBCUs and other “minority-serving  institutions.”

If Obama can retain much of his budget plan, he can demonstrate that government action can spur job creation, industrial innovation and economic growth. But with tough opposition in the Republican-controlled Congress, he will have to make some sharp maneuvers to gain the numbers to pull it off.