Conrad Chops Obama’s Budget

Posted March 24, 2009 at 5:27pm

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is taking an ax to President Barack Obama’s budget, slashing $15 billion from his non-defense spending plans while declining to include a $634 billion fund Obama had sought for health care reform.

Conrad’s budget blueprint, which he described broadly in a discussion with reporters late Tuesday, cuts the deficit by a cumulative $608 billion over five years relative to Obama’s plan, including $160 billion in cuts to discretionary spending. It also does not include any funding for another Wall Street bailout, and it provides just three years of relief from the alternative minimum tax.

Overall non-defense discretionary spending would increase 7 percent to $525 billion, instead of the 10 percent increase sought by Obama.

Conrad still assumes that tax cuts for the wealthy expire after 2010, but he provides enough flexibility for tax cuts for the middle class to continue.

However, the $400-per-worker “Making Work Pay— tax credit is not assumed to continue. Obama has tied that tax cut to enactment of a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, and many moderate Democrats have spoken out against the idea.

Conrad also did not include any reconciliation instructions that would give health care or climate change legislation the ability to bypass filibusters. But he refused to rule out including such instructions in a conference report.

“It will be a very interesting conference,— he said.

And while Conrad did not include any deficit-financed funding for health care as Obama sought, he did include a provision that would allow a health care reform plan to be enacted provided that it pays for itself in the long run.

Conrad said he made several of his changes to tighten the purse strings in light of new, bleaker Congressional Budget Office projections showing an explosion of debt over the next decade.

“We were faced with a dramatic change in the revenue forecast,— he said. “When you lose $2.3 trillion, you have to pay for things, you have to cut things, that’s what we’ve done.—

House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) is set to unveil his budget blueprint Wednesday morning.