WASHINGTON - Congressional Republicans rebuffed President Obama’s budget proposal with predictable hostility yesterday, and deemed his $3.8 trillion spending plan rife with gimmicks and tax increases that could further threaten the still-fragile economy.
With the presidential campaign looming large on Capitol Hill, the proposal was virtually dead on arrival, with Republicans unlikely to go along with the tax increases on the country’s millionaires and billionaires that the White House expects would finance some of its proposed spending.
“The president’s budget is a gloomy reflection of his failed policies of the past, not a bold plan for America’s future,’’ said House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio.
Congress has until April 15 to approve a budget, but House Republicans declined to say when they would unveil their own proposal. When they do, it will undoubtedly further expose the deep ideological divide behind the political gridlock that now routinely chokes Capitol Hill.
“In the coming weeks and months, the House of Representatives will work to put together an honest budget that will focus on putting Americans back to work, protecting American seniors, and closing the massive deficits that have become a hallmark of President Obama’s time in office,’’ Boehner said.
The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, dismissed the president’s proposal as “a campaign document.’’
“The game plan is clear: Rather than reach out to Congress to craft a consensus budget, the president will take this budget on the road, as he did today, and talk about the parts he thinks audiences will like. What he won’t say is that it’s bad for job creation, bad for seniors, and that it will make the economy worse.’’
“Well, if anybody wants to know what a failure of leadership looks like, this is it,’’ said McConnell, echoing a refrain often heard in the stump speeches of the Republicans vying to oust Obama from the White House.
Senator Scott Brown, the sole Republican in the Bay State’s congressional delegation, responded to the president’s budget proposal by calling for passage of a balanced budget amendment to “finally bring fiscal discipline to Washington.’’
“We can do better than a budget that runs a trillion-dollar deficit and raises taxes in the midst of an economic downturn,’’ said Brown, who is expected to face a tough reelection campaign against his presumed Democratic opponent, Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren.
Brown, who has tried to portray himself as a moderate who can work with both sides of the aisle, declined to comment on whether he found any common ground in the president’s budget proposal.
Other Republicans were scathing in their criticism of Obama.
“President Obama’s irresponsible budget is a recipe for a debt crisis and the decline of America,’’ said Representative Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman. The Wisconsin congressman is the architect of the so-called Ryan Plan, which Tea Party advocates and fiscal conservatives have used as a budget-slashing blueprint that would revamp Medicare and other entitlement programs.
On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who hopes to face Obama in November’s general election, said the president’s budget proposal fell short of “any meaningful steps toward solving our entitlement crisis.’’ Before the White House even officially released the document, the Romney campaign rejected the plan as an “insult to the American taxpayer.’’
Election-year politics will no doubt roil Congress for the rest of the year as Democrats and Republicans seek to seize the public relations advantage during legislative battles.
Many of the disputes have centered on taxing the wealthy. Republicans have opposed any tax increases, while Democrats say the rich can afford to bear more of the tax burden to pay for government programs.
The ideological divide between the parties fueled bitter showdowns that nearly shut down the government on four occasions last year, including one last April because of deep disagreements over the budget.
Another showdown looms not only with the president’s budget proposal but over passage of a payroll-tax holiday extension for 160 million Americans that is part of Obama’s assumptions.
A new front developed yesterday over extending the tax cut, which will expire at the end of the month. House Republicans, who were badly bruised by a December standoff over the matter, indicated they could be willing to extend the program for the rest of the year if it were considered on its own, which could leave two other issues dangling: the extension of the unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and the so-called “doc fix’’ intended to prevent a cut in reimbursement rates for doctors who treat seniors under Medicare.
The clash over the budget was the latest exercise in the political gamesmanship that has come to dominate Congress, and will undoubtedly prevail in the months to come.
“We all understand this is an election year, and trying to come together is especially difficult,’’ said Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, who chairs the Senate’s Budget Committee.