Six years into his presidency, President Barack Obama is sending Congress a budget that for once does not herald a partisan legislative showdown.
There’s no push to overhaul health care as he did in 2009, no drive as in 2010 to restrict Wall Street, no attempt to increase taxes as in 2011 and 2012, no move to halt automatic spending cuts as in 2013.
Politically speaking, this is a peacetime budget in an election year, when the most meaningful fights will take place during congressional campaigns, not on the floors or the House and Senate.
As such, Obama’s budget, to be released Tuesday, will offer a template for Democratic political messaging.
To the delight of Democrats, this will not be an austerity budget like last year’s. Then, Obama had proposed reducing annual increases in federal benefit programs, a step many Democrats found hard to fathom. The cut was part of Obama’s offer to Republicans for a long-term attack on the nation’s debt, through a mix of major tax increases and spending reductions.
But that approach failed. Now, with deficits declining and weariness over default threats and government shutdowns, neither side appears willing to play that game of brinkmanship again.
Instead, Obama’s spending blueprint for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 proposes $56 billion in spending above the caps agreed to in a bipartisan deal from earlier this year. Under the plan, the extra spending, which would be split between domestic programs and defense, would not add to the deficit because Obama proposes to pay for it with a mix of cutting programs and eliminating tax breaks.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the extra dollars for the military, which would restore some money trimmed through automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, would permit the Pentagon to increase training, improve aircraft and weapons systems and repair military facilities.
It proposes to bring in more revenue through stricter tax rules for U.S. companies that have operations overseas and for foreign businesses with divisions in the United States. Those new rules, requiring congressional action, would tackle what the Obama administration considers tax avoidance schemes.
Both the spending and tax proposals are long shots for legislative action this election year. But they are part of a unifying theme for Democrats eager to distinguish themselves from Republicans before voters.
Already both sides are using the outlines of their fiscal visions to set the terms of the election debate.
Obama, speaking to the Democratic National Committee on Friday, cast some of his budget proposals as part of a larger message of opportunity for all.
“Next week, I will send Congress a budget that will create new jobs in manufacturing and energy and innovation and infrastructure. And we’ll pay for every dime of it by cutting unnecessary spending, closing wasteful tax loopholes,” Obama said.
A day earlier, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had offered a summary of his own of the Republican message, citing the economy and Obama’s health care law as defining issues in the election.
“We’ve seen more and more that the president has no interest in doing the big things that he got elected to do,” Boehner. “His budget apparently will make no effort to address the drivers of our debt and our deficit.”