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Obama’s budget proposal a populist wish list

Reprises some past initiatives on cuts, spending

Obama’s budget for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, reflects his aspirations in his waning presidency, regardless of the political reality he confronts.

RON SACHS/EPA/POOL

Obama’s budget for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, reflects his aspirations in his waning presidency, regardless of the political reality he confronts.

WASHINGTON — President Obama sent Congress an annual $3.9 trillion budget request on Tuesday that stands as a platform for Democrats to run on in this election year, full of policies intended to invite contrasts with Republicans rather than offer compromises as he did last year, without success.

Obama’s budget for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, reflects his aspirations in his waning presidency, regardless of the political reality he confronts. The document, his sixth budget, seeks to energize Democratic voters with populist proposals like a more generous tax credit for the working poor, paid for with higher taxes on the rich.

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The president, as before, seeks to balance calls for spending and tax-cut policies to help the economy against measures to reduce already declining deficits. But this year his emphasis is on the investment side to address the rise in economic inequality, broaden opportunities for upward mobility, and spur technological innovation.

Obama has reprised many past spending and tax-cut initiatives for education from preschool through college, for roads and other public works, and for research and manufacturing centers, with many of the ideas popular among Republicans. But he has also proposed to offset the initiatives’ cost by ending tax breaks for the wealthy and some corporations, which sets up a trade-off intended to put anti-tax Republicans in a political vise. He would bring total new revenues to more than $1 trillion over 10 years, much of it for deficit reduction.

“Our budget is about choices, it’s about our values,” Obama said as he visited an elementary school in Washington. “As a country, we’ve got to make a decision if we’re going to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans or if we’re going to make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy, and expand opportunity for every American.”

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Republicans were quick to condemn the Obama budget for its proposed spending and tax increases. They will most likely succeed again in blocking much of it in Congress’s appropriations process, though Democrats are typically able to salvage some initiatives.

“This budget isn’t a serious document, it’s a campaign brochure,” said Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who as chairman of the House Budget Committee will write Republicans’ fiscal plan next month.

Before the Obama budget’s release, Ryan put out a blistering analysis of antipoverty programs of the past half-century, reflecting Republicans’ goal of restructuring the safety net. Ryan’s previous budgets, which the House passed but the Democratic-controlled Senate stopped, would have replaced Medicare with a voucherlike system and would have converted Medicaid into a sharply reduced block grant to states, just as both programs are facing greater demands from baby boomers.

Congressional Democrats are hoping that Obama’s budget will frame the election-year debate and sharpen the contrasts between the parties’ views of government, to Democrats’ political advantage.

“We’ve got to decide if we’re going to keep squeezing the middle class, or if we’re going to continue to reduce the deficits responsibly while taking steps to grow and strengthen the middle class,” Obama said at the school. “The American people have made clear time and again which approach they prefer — that’s the approach my budget offers.”

Gone from his budget is the concession Obama proposed to Republicans last year, as his second term began, to reduce future Social Security cost-of-living increases. The president had hoped that gesture, made over Democrats’ objections, would entice Republicans to compromise on a “grand bargain” of long-term deficit reductions and federal investments. But Republicans refused to consider raising tax revenues from the wealthy and some businesses, as Obama sought.

So the president returned this year to what the White House called “a more traditional budget” — one embodying his wish list. Democrats in Congress had all but demanded that he do so, fearful that giving ground on Social Security would anger the liberal base.

Leading Democrats indicated, however, that they would join Republicans in opposing Obama’s plan to spend nearly $55 billion — evenly split between domestic and military spending — beyond limits set for discretionary programs in the deal that the two parties negotiated in December to avert another government shutdown.

Obama proposed to offset the added spending — half with reductions in other programs and half from limiting tax benefits for wealthy individuals in investment accounts for retirement.

But Republicans said that he was reneging on the December deal, which softened spending cuts known as sequestration.

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