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Brace for ugly budget reprise

By Walt Braun

It’s budget battle time again in Washington, D.C. No sooner had the president released a “fact sheet” of his spending plan over the weekend — he was to introduce the actual budget today — than Republicans pounced.

Among other criticisms, several described it not as a spending document but as a “political” document. That might very well be; this is an election year, after all, and the budget will be an important election issue. But in denouncing it as a “political” document, Republicans only ensure that it is so.

What the president has proposed doesn’t sound as bad to us as it does to Republicans. Then again, we’re not opposed to the president’s approach of simultaneously working toward long-term deficit reduction while trying to inject some money into the economy. The economy seems to be recovering, but progress is tentative, and proposals such as the president’s plan to invest $8 billion to promote job training at community colleges sounds eminently worthwhile.

Republicans also contend that the president’s plan isn’t aggressive enough in combatting the debt and that some of the ways it would do so — tax increases, for example — are unacceptable.

President Obama says his proposal will achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction in the next decade through federal spending cuts as well as tax increases — in part by letting the Bush tax cuts expire for families earning more than $250,000 a year. Part of his problem is that what he says will happen often has little bearing on what actually does occur.

We’d like to know more about the president’s proposals. We’d also like to see what sort of proposal Republicans, particularly Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Budget Committee, come up with.

Unfortunately, we’re not as optimistic as we’d like to be. Both parties seem more inclined to use the budget debate as a campaign weapon than they do in reaching solutions that could, at long last, set this country on a course of responsible deficit reduction.

There’s a reason Americans have such a low opinion of Congress, and it has a lot to do with the determination of members of both parties to weaken their political adversaries instead of collaborating for the greater good.

Sadly, Republicans’ kneejerk opposition to the president’s “fact sheet” and Democrats’ immediate counterattack is evidence that little, if anything, has changed.

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