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Obama Makes Case for Budget, Congress Considers Cuts

Congressional Democrats outlined plans Wednesday to scale back the Obama administration's budget plan as the president visited Capitol Hill to drum up support. Reporters examine the politics at play.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    President Obama lobbied Democrats in the U.S. Senate today to back his budget, while at the same time party leaders started making changes in the $3.6 trillion outline.

    NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our lead story report.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The president went to the Capitol this afternoon seeking support for his spending blueprint, amid criticism from key Democrats. On the House side, he got help from Vice President Joe Biden, who met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    JOSEPH BIDEN, Vice President of the United States: Look, I am confident that, with the leadership of the speaker and with Harry Reid, we're going to get our budget with all the major elements intact. I think our budget will — I'm absolutely confident will cut the deficit in half within five years.

    We have to get down to rebuilding an economy that produces a solid foundation for the better part of the beginning of the century. And that requires us to deal with education, with health care, and it requires us to deal with energy, and also budget discipline built into this.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Later, as Mr. Obama headed back to the White House, the question remained: how to address his priorities without causing crippling deficits.

    The president's budget estimates the red ink will total $1.4 trillion for the next fiscal year, then drop to less than half that amount by 2014. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office projected his plan would yield far larger deficits, and that raised alarms in Congress.

    So Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad and House Budget Chair John Spratt laid out their own plans today. Their numbers are lower than or comparable to the president's. They estimate a $1.2 trillion deficit for the coming fiscal year. And in five years, they project red ink in the range of $500 billion to $600 billion.

    Still, Conrad sounded a note of compromise after meeting with Mr. Obama today.

    SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), North Dakota: With respect to the budget, we have attempted to preserve, and I think have preserved, the president's key priorities. That's what he asked me to do when we got the reforecast of reducing our dependence on foreign energy, excellence in education, health care reform. All of those are possible to move forward in the budget resolution that I have written.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    For example, the budget chairmen would allow the president's health care reform plans if they're paid for by tax hikes or spending cuts, but they'd let his middle-class tax cuts expire at the end of next year.

    They'd also leave out additional rescue funds for banks and the cap-and-trade system of selling greenhouse gas permits.

    At his White House news conference last night, Mr. Obama said he believes that ultimately Congress will give him most of what he wants.

    BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: Now, we never expected, when we printed out our budget, that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it. We assumed that it has to go through the legislative process.

    I have not yet seen the final product coming out of the Senate or the House, and we're in constant conversations with them. I am confident that the budget we put forward will have those principles in place.