Obama's Budget Arrives in Congress -- on Time

Obama's Budget Arrives in Congress -- on Time
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For just the second time in his administration, President Obama will meet his budget deadline Monday when he sends his nearly $4 trillion budget proposal to Congress.

The budget aims to increase spending for middle-class families while raising some taxes on the wealthy, and it goes above the automatic spending restraints known as sequestration. The spending and tax increases are expected to set up a battle with Republicans, who now control both chambers of Congress and generally oppose both policies. The budget’s arrival on Capitol Hill Monday kicks off a weeks-long process of hearings before lawmakers will submit their own budget proposals in April.

Senators have about 24 hours after Obama’s budget is physically delivered to their chamber to prepare for their first chance to question the administration about the plan. Shaun Donovan, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, is set to testify before the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday morning about Obama’s proposal. Donovan will then testify before the House Budget Committee on Wednesday.  

The panels will hear other testimony on the country’s fiscal situation in the coming weeks, and will also receive input from other lawmakers and committees throughout the process. Though no further hearings have been scheduled yet, it’s likely that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will be among those to testify before the budget committees. Lew is appearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

The budget panels must report their proposals to the full chambers by April 1 and those plans must be voted on by April 15. To make this happen, the budget would need to be released before Congress takes time off for Easter starting March 30.

The White House is likely to see opposition from Republicans on some of the major elements of its budget, most notably the tax increases on the wealthy.  In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said he would look for common ground with the White House on tax reform, but criticized Obama’s economic plan, saying the president is “exploiting envy economics.”

There will be places where Obama will see some bipartisan support, however, such as eliminating the sequestration spending restraints. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, held a hearing last week on the continued impact of the mandatory cuts on the military.

“Let’s be clear: If we continue with these arbitrary defense cuts, we will harm our military’s ability to keep us safe,” McCain said in his opening statement. “We have heard all of this from our top military commanders before, yet there are still those that say, ‘Never fear. The sky didn’t fall under sequestration.’ What a tragically low standard for evaluating the wisdom of government policy.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, applauded the president for his proposal to end budget restraints.  

“Arbitrary cuts through sequestration never made sense, and House Democrats have consistently supported replacing them with a smarter, more balanced approach to long-term deficit reduction,” Van Hollen said in a statement last week.

Before the budget can be fully considered in Congress, however, lawmakers must first deal with spending for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out at the end of this month. The House has passed a bill funding DHS, but with amendments that would halt Obama’s executive action delaying deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants. The Senate is expected to take up the House DHS bill this week, but Democrats in the upper chamber have said they will hold up any DHS measure that includes amendments targeting immigration, and Obama has threatened to veto any such legislation.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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