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Obama's $3.9 Trillion Budget Takes More Realistic Approach

President Barack Obama’s budget for fiscal 2015 is perhaps his most realistic to date. Grand bargains are out. Grand new proposals are out, too.

It proposes $3.9 trillion in outlays for fiscal 2015, a $250 billion increase over the $3.6 trillion estimated for fiscal 2014. The topline for base discretionary spending in 2015 is $1.014 trillion, compared to $1.012 trillion in 2014. In its January report, CBO estimated total 2014 discretionary spending at $1.11 trillion when war spending, disaster relief and program integrity initiatives are included.

The “Opportunity For All” budget lives within the two-year deal reached last year between House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. — although the White House includes a $56 billion sidecar wish list that would add spending to domestic and defense accounts. That wish list is almost certainly dead on arrival.

As a result, for the first time in years Congress can look at agency budgets as proposed by the administration and not immediately have to think about how to cut them to live within the realities of divided government.

Previously, the administration proposed budgets that assumed the sequester spending cuts enacted in 2011 would immediately disappear. Even when Democrats were in charge, the administration proposed budgets with far more stimulus spending than Congress was willing to enact.

And for all of the conventional wisdom that the president’s budget is always DOA on Capitol Hill, in a post-earmark world, the president’s budget will be scrutinized carefully by lawmakers of both parties.

That’s because the only earmarks that are still considered kosher on Capitol Hill are the ones the president puts in his budget in the first place.

The budget includes many pieces already announced by the White House.

A $302 billion, four-year surface transportation reauthorization plan will be a major focus of Congress this year with a pre-election deadline to avoid draining trust funds and halting new projects around the country — and Obama proposes paying for it in the same way Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., did in his tax reform plan — with one-time upfront revenue.

The $56 billion “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” is the administration’s wish list, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs.

But while Democrats are giving the plan lip service support this morning, Senate Democrats aren’t planning to bring a budget resolution to the floor to try and set the stage for it. It does, at least, give Democrats and the administration something to sell to their base ahead of the midterm elections, even if House Republicans shove it quickly into their circular file.

“I am hopeful that Republicans will come back to the table and work with us to bring this initiative up in Congress as a supplement to the work already being done in the Appropriations Committees at the bipartisan spending levels,” Murray said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Republicans declared the wish list dead-on-arrival.

“Contrary to the President’s wish-list of additional spending, my Committee will abide by the budget caps for fiscal year 2015,” said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

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