Obama drives US toward socialism, GOP says
Leaders attack size of budget Democrats praise goals
WASHINGTON - Top Republicans accused President Obama yesterday of driving the United States toward socialism, while Democrats praised his spending plans as an ambitious roadmap to change healthcare, energy, taxes, and more.
The rhetoric appeared to set the stage for another bitter partisan fight in Congress, which begins hearings next week on Obama's $3.55 trillion budget proposal that he unveiled Thursday.
Obama wants to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for more government attention to healthcare, education, climate change, and social programs, along with efforts to jolt the economy out of a deepening recession.
The budget also forecasts the biggest federal deficit ever - $1.75 trillion this year - adding to widespread sticker shock in Congress, where only three Republicans supported the $787 billion economic stimulus package.
Representative John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, called the budget proposal and recently passed economic stimulus plan "one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment."
"I have serious concerns with this budget, which demands hardworking American families and job creators turn over more of their hard-earned money to the government to pay for unprecedented spending increases," added Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi however, praised a "wonderful blueprint" from the administration that looks beyond reviving a weak economy and restoring order to the credit markets.
Pelosi told reporters yesterday that majority Democrats will have a nonbinding budget blueprint ready for a vote next month, detailing targets for spending and taxes. Senate action would follow, and agreement on a compromise would clear the way for routine spending bills that Democrats will use to underscore differences between their priorities and those of the Republicans.
A group of 49 fiscally conservative House Democrats, whose commitment to deficit reduction has at times put some of them at odds with Obama's economic program, hailed Obama's budget for presenting what they called an honest fiscal picture.
"To begin to set our nation back on the right fiscal track, we must first understand and acknowledge how big of a hole we are in," said Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, a leader of the Democratic "Blue Dog" Coalition.
But Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, a Democrat who is chairman of the Budget Committee, had misgivings about Obama's proposal. Conrad said he worried about the budget's long-term outlook, which sees deficits fall until 2013 and then begin to rise again. "I think that requires additional work," he said yesterday on CNBC.
And he predicted trouble for Obama's plan to limit itemized deductions for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000.
The three Senate Republicans who crossed the political aisle to back the Obama stimulus plan also said they had reservations about his budget proposal.
"The president's proposed budget outlines an aggressive domestic agenda that requires serious consideration, but also raises many questions, particularly about the enormous growth in the public debt," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who along with Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voted for the stimulus bill.
Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, who joined Collins in drafting a compromise on the stimulus package, also voiced concerns about the budget.
"While President Obama inherited much of the deficit he's battling, his budget has eye-popping numbers, and its size and scope concern me. In particular, I'm not sure raising taxes is the best way to go in these times," Nelson said.
By invoking socialism some Republicans appeared ready to use the budget debate to burnish their conservative appeal after last November's election drubbing.
Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina called Obama "the world's best salesman of socialism," while McConnell said Obama's proposals recalled the "big government mentality" of former President Jimmy Carter - a favorite target for many conservatives.
Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that while the Republican cries of socialism may play well in solidly Republican congressional districts, they might not get broader traction.
"I think that for most other Americans, it will either be ignored or will backfire," he said.