Published February 21, 2009
Barack Obama wants to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term, mostly by scaling back Iraq war spending, raising taxes on the wealthiest and streamlining government, an administration official said Saturday as the president worked to finalize his first budget request.
Obama's proposal for the 2010 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 projects that the estimated $1.3 trillion deficit he has inherited from former President Bush will be halved to $533 billion by 2013. That's a difference of 9.2 percent of the overall economy now vs. 3 percent in four years.
He's expected to outline some broad themes of his budget request Monday at a White House summit on fiscal policy and touch on it during his first speech to Congress on Tuesday evening. He is slated to officially send at least a summary of it to Congress on Thursday, barely a week after his $787 billion economic stimulus plan becoming law.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the president has not yet released his budget, said Obama hopes to achieve his deficit-reduction goal by generating savings as he follows through on three core campaign promises over the next four years.
He has pledged to wind down the Iraq war by withdrawing most combat troops within 16 months of taking office. He also has said he would let the temporary Bush tax cuts expire in 2011 for people making more than $250,000 a year, effectively raising taxes on those people. And, he has vowed to scale back spending and improve government efficiency by eliminating programs that don't work.
The budget projections suggest that Obama hasn't backed off of any of those priorities, despite relatively little movement on them and at least one misstep in his first month in office as he concentrated on lobbying for the economic stimulus plan and rescuing the housing, auto and financial sectors.
Pentagon officials still are trying to determine exactly how to scale back the U.S. troop commitment in Iraq. The president's sweeping economic plan didn't include any of the tax increases Obama, as a candidate, had said he would impose on wealthy taxpayers. And, Nancy Killefer, his selection for a newly created position charged with eliminating inefficient government programs, withdrew amid personal tax issues.
Cutting the deficit by half in a mere four years is a lofty goal at any time, let alone in such dire economic circumstances. The question is whether Obama can do it while also turning around a recession now well into its second year.
Obama has pledged to make deficit-reduction a priority both as a candidate and a president. But he also has said economic recovery must come first.
In his first month in office, he has overseen enormous amounts of spending aimed at stabilizing the economy, reversing the recession and heading off even more turmoil.
Last week, he signed into law the $787 billion stimulus measure that is meant to create jobs but certainly will add to the nation's skyrocketing national debt. He also is implementing the $700 billion financial sector rescue passed on Bush's watch; about $75 billion of it is being used toward Obama's plan to help homeowners facing foreclosure. At the same time, the administration is weighing requests by General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC for an additional $21.6 billion. The ailing automakers already have received a combined $17.4 billion in federal loans.
Yet, even as he's spending a ton of taxpayer money, Obama also is pressing the need for getting "exploding deficits" under control.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said his budget will be "sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting, and lays out in detail my strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don't, and restoring fiscal discipline."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that this year's budget deficit will be at least a record $1.2 trillion -- about two times that of the year before. That total includes financial bailouts and rescue plans Congress approved since last Oct. 1, the start of the government's budget year, but not Obama's hefty stimulus package that's now law.
Some private economists are forecasting that the budget deficit for the current year will hit $1.6 trillion. And, the Treasury Department has said that the recession and massive costs for the $700 billion financial bailout have pushed the federal deficit to an all-time high for the first four months of the budget year.
Obama's budget director, Peter Orszag, told lawmakers recently that even after the economy recovers, annual deficits could reach $750 billion or so and steadily exceed $1 trillion by the end of the next decade. And, Obama himself has said, without decisive action, "trillion-dollar deficits will be a reality for years to come."