The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 1, 2014

For Obama, an election-year budget without drama

WASHINGTON — Six years into his presidency, President Barack Obama is sending Congress a budget that for once does not herald a partisan legislative showdown.

There's no push to overhaul health care as he did in 2009, no drive as in 2010 to restrict Wall Street, no attempt to increase taxes as in 2011 and 2012, no move to halt automatic spending cuts as in 2013.

Politically speaking, this is a peacetime budget in an election year, when the most meaningful fights will take place during congressional campaigns, not on the floors or the House and Senate.

As such, Obama's budget, to be released Tuesday, will offer a template for Democratic political messaging.

To the delight of Democrats, this will not be an austerity budget like last year's. Then, Obama had proposed reducing annual increases in federal benefit programs, a step many Democrats found hard to fathom. The cut was part of Obama's offer to Republicans for a long-term attack on the nation's debt, through a mix of major tax increases and spending reductions.

But that approach failed. Now, with deficits declining and weariness over default threats and government shutdowns, neither side appears willing to play that game of brinkmanship again.

Instead, Obama's spending blueprint for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 proposes $56 billion in spending above the caps agreed to in a bipartisan deal from earlier this year. Under the plan, the extra spending would not add to the deficit because Obama proposes to pay for it with a mix of program cuts and eliminating tax breaks.

It proposes to bring in more revenue through stricter tax rules for U.S. companies that have operations overseas and for foreign businesses with divisions in the United States. Those new rules, requiring congressional action, would tackle what the Obama administration considers tax avoidance schemes.

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