WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Tuesday brushed aside criticism that he’s trying to take on too many issues at once, defending a $3.6 trillion budget that seeks to shore up the economy while also overhauling health care, energy and education.
"To kick these problems down the road for another four years or another eight years would be to continue the same irresponsibility that led us to this point," Obama said in an appearance with the heads of the congressional budget committees. "That’s not why I ran for this office. I didn’t come here to pass on our problems to the next president or the next generation."
In particular, the president responded sharply to the idea, pushed by some leaders in Congress, that he should focus on fixing the banking crisis first. Obama said his team is working aggressively to free up frozen credit and get people working again, but that real economic recovery requires many actions at once.
"The American people don’t have the luxury of just focusing on Wall Street," Obama said. "They don’t have the luxury of choosing to pay their mortgage or their medical bills. They don’t get to pick between paying their kids’ college tuition or saving enough money for retirement."
"They have to do all these things," the president said. "They have to confront all these problems. And as a consequence, so do we."
Obama was flanked by two Democrats as he defended he budget plan: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and his House counterpart, Rep. John Spratt Jr., D-S.C.
Conrad is among lawmakers from both parties who have expressed skepticism about Obama’s proposals. Conrad called the future track of the country’s deficits "unsustainable."
Later, addressing reporters in the Capitol, Conrad said he anticipates that new Congressional Budget Office estimates expected later this week will show a worse fiscal picture than predicted by Obama’s budget — and that will likely mean less spending on Obama initiatives and a greater effort to curb the deficit.
"All of us understand that we’re going to get new estimates from CBO soon and they will be more adverse," Conrad said. "And it’s going to require adjustments."
Obama is projecting a federal deficit of $1.75 trillion this year, by far the largest in history, but says he can get it down to $533 billion by 2013.
"That will bring discretionary spending for domestic programs as a share of the economy to its lowest level in nearly half a century," Obama said Tuesday.
Republicans say the bill spends, borrows and taxes too much.
"This budget raises taxes on everyone from middle-class families to small businesses to seniors and to schools," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The president plans to raise taxes, starting in 2011, on individuals earning more than $200,000 and on households earning more than $250,000. Republicans say those increases will hurt small business.
In a passage clearly aimed at his critics, Obama challenged lawmakers who oppose his budget plan to offer constructive alternatives. He said he welcomed ideas from both parties but would not accept another period of political tactics.
"’Just say no’ is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs," Obama said. "It is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party. The American people sent us here to get things done."
Obama said his budget sets the framework for real economic recovery, the kind he said can create "lasting wealth," not the illusion of prosperity. He has been pushing lawmakers and the country to get behind a long-range, costly economic model that isn’t build on bubbles like the now collapsed housing market.
Rep. Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, has said the GOP plans to offer its own budget as an alternative. Cantor said Obama’s long-term view doesn’t address the country’s immediate needs.