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Obama budget gets cool reception from GOP lawmakers

BY Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  March 5, 2014 at 9:23 AM EDT
Copies of President Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget are shown for sale at the Government Printing Office Tuesday in Washington. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Copies of President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget are shown for sale at the Government Printing Office Tuesday in Washington. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Morning Line

The dramatic developments in Ukraine may have overshadowed the release of President Barack Obama’s budget blueprint Tuesday, but the fact of the matter is the proposal was always going to have a hard time gaining traction on Capitol Hill in an election year.

As a matter of policy the $3.9 trillion plan unveiled by the president Tuesday does not stand a chance of being enacted. But it will certainly find a use as a political instrument to help Democrats frame the debate about spending priorities leading into November’s midterm elections.

For months the president has made clear he intends to spend the remaining years of his presidency focused on economic mobility, whether that be through extending unemployment insurance benefits, raising the minimum wage or launching a new public-private initiative to help young men of color. His 2015 budget offers a fuller view of that picture, requesting fresh spending on administration priorities such as early childhood education, job training programs and manufacturing centers, while generating $1 trillion in revenue over the next decade by raising taxes on wealthier Americans.

“Our budget is about choices. It’s about our values,” Mr. Obama said during a visit to Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C. “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.”

Congressional Republicans quickly dismissed the president’s proposal.

“This budget isn’t a serious document; it’s a campaign brochure,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement. “In divided government, we need leadership and collaboration. And in this budget, we have neither.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the plan as “a clear sign this president has given up on any efforts to address our serious fiscal challenges.”

He added: “After years of fiscal and economic mismanagement, the president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet.”

Ryan will offer a formal rebuttal to the president’s budget in the coming weeks.

As the Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported earlier this week, the plan “will focus on welfare reform and recommend a sweeping overhaul of social programs, including Head Start and Medicaid.”

The Ryan budget poses a potential risk for GOP lawmakers running for re-election by putting them in a position of having to defend a proposal that would overhaul programs with broad public support. And with the GOP budget having zero chance of advancing through the Democratic-controlled Senate, a vote in favor of it would be largely symbolic.

There does not appear to be much overlap between the visions of the two parties when it comes to the country’s budget picture, but one potential area of agreement is the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The president’s plan calls for expanding the program to childless working adults, at a cost of $60 billion, paid for by eliminating tax breaks for hedge fund managers and self-employed high-wage earners.

On Tuesday’s NewsHour Judy Woodruff explored the idea with Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Capretta said the EITC would be a better alternative than raising the federal minimum wage as the president has called for. “I don’t know how much of a chance, but around the Earned Income Tax Credit, there’s more bipartisan support for that kind of an approach to wage supplements than it is for just redistributing through taxing and spending,” he said.

Greenstein said the two issues should be dealt with together. “You can’t do the whole thing through the Earned Income Credit. It puts too much strain on government finances,” he said. “You can’t do the whole thing through the minimum wage. That puts too much strain on employers.”

One thing Capretta and Greenstein did agree on: these issues are unlikely to be resolved before the November election.

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LONE STAR STATE RESULTS

The first contest of the midterm elections opened Tuesday with Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Pete Sessions handily defeating their primary challengers by convincing margins, while Rep. Ralph Hall received less than 50 percent of the vote and will face a May runoff against former U.S. attorney John Ratcliffe.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will also face a runoff against Houston lawmaker and radio host Dan Patrick, who finished with a double-digit lead over Dewhurst in Tuesday’s primary. As Politico notes, the lieutenant governor in Texas “arguably has more power than the governor.”

Dewhurst ran for Senate in 2012, finishing first in the primary, only to be toppled in the runoff by now-Sen. Ted Cruz, who overcame an initial 10-point deficit. But Patrick doesn’t face that uphill battle. “We will show the rest of the country what it means to be conservative,” he said after Tuesday’s first-place showing.

The high-profile gubernatorial matchup, however, is set following party primary victories Tuesday by Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis. Judy Woodruff previewed the November contest between Abbott and Davis with Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News.

While initially hyped as a harbinger of GOP contests to come, the staying power of conservative incumbents like Cornyn and Sessions carries little significance for the wider midterm landscape. Stockman was known for disappearing from the campaign trail and ran a campaign from the right against Cornyn without strong tea party support. Roll Call’s David Hawkings writes that the real takeaway from the Texas primaries shouldn’t be about the GOP; it will be about Democratic turnout and how soon the state will turn purple.

LINE ITEMS

  • McClatchy reports that the CIA Inspector General’s office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of CIA malfeasance related to the preparation of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s yet-to-be-released report on the agency’s secret detention and interrogation program.

  • A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 59 percent of Americans — a record high — support same-sex marriage. And regardless of their personal preference on the issue, 50 percent of Americans think gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

  • Speaking at a private event in California Tuesday, Hillary Clinton compared Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, reports the Long Beach Press Telegram.

  • The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin examines John Podesta’s role in pushing the Obama administration to take more aggressive steps when it comes to environmental policy.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid upped the ante on his criticism of the Koch brothers Tuesday, accusing the conservative billionaires of trying to “buy America” and suggesting GOP lawmakers were “addicted to Koch.” The Nevada Democrat also refused to back off his comment last week calling the Kochs “un-American.”

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., charged Tuesday that the administration’s response to the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, contributed to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

  • A new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll finds Hillary Clinton better liked heading into 2016 than she was at the start of the 2008 presidential campaign.

  • Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Atlanta Tuesday to help raise some money for Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn.

  • The Washington Times reports Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has asked lawmakers in the Bluegrass State to approve legislation that would allow him to run for president and re-election to the Senate in 2016.

  • The wife of Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has accused the congressman of shoving her during a domestic incident over the weekend. Grayson’s office called the charges “absolutely false.”

  • In a Jersey Shore town hall Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie downgraded his estimate of how much federal aid the state will receive for Hurricane Sandy and blamed the inefficiencies of the federal insurance program on the size of government. But the biggest applause came in response to a question about “Obamacare,” when Christie said, “elect a new president.”

  • The National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle explained Monday’s Supreme Court arguments examining Florida’s use of IQ scores to determine whether someone is “intellectually disabled” for the purposes of a death sentence.

  • Private consumption of marijuana in the nation’s capital was decriminalized by the D.C. Council Tuesday. The measure, which is expected be signed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, conflicts with federal law.

  • Fox News host Greta Van Susteren tweeted Tuesday night, “I am told this is certain: Scott Brown is going to run for US Senate in NH.” The former Massachusetts senator and Fox News contributor responded in an email to Politico saying, “I am not sure who she talked to, but it was not me. I know what the timelines are and when I need to make a decision, one way or the other. I will make my decisions in due course. Until I announce or file with the FEC, it is all just speculation.”

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

TOP TWEETS

Rachel Wellford and Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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