ABOVE PHOTO: President Barack Obama (Shutterstock/Mykhaylo Palinchak)
By Martin Crutsinger
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is sending Congress a $4 trillion budget Monday that seeks to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations and use the extra income to lift the fortunes of families who have felt squeezed during tough economic times.
He would also ease tight budget constraints imposed on the military and domestic programs back in 2011, and unveils new initiatives including an ambitious $478 billion public works program for highway, bridge and transit upgrades.
The administration said the budget represented a strategy to strengthen the middle class and help “hard-working families get ahead in a time of relentless economic and technological change.”
“This country’s better off than it was four years ago, but what we also know is that wages and incomes for middle class families are just now ticking up,” Obama said in an interview broadcast on Monday’s “Today Show” on NBC. “They haven’t been keeping pace over the last 30 years compared to, you know, corporate profits and what’s happening to folks in the very top.”
Even before the massive budget books landed on lawmakers’ desks, Republicans were on the attack, accusing the president of seeking to revert to tax-and-spend policies that will harm the economy while failing to do anything about the budget’s biggest problem – soaring spending on government benefit programs.
Obama’s fiscal blueprint, for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, proposes spending $4 trillion – $3.99 trillion before rounding – and projects revenues of $3.53 trillion.
That would leave a deficit of $474 billion. Obama’s budget plan never reaches balance over the next decade and projects the deficit would rise to $687 billion in 2025.
The administration contends that various spending cuts and tax increases would trim the deficits by about $1.8 trillion over the next decade, leaving the red ink at manageable levels.
Congressional Republicans say the budgets they produce will achieve balance and will attack costly benefit program like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, accused the president of exploiting “envy economics.” Interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ryan said, “This top down redistribution doesn’t work.”
Obama, interviewed by NBC before the start of Sunday’s Super Bowl game, said he believed there were areas where he can work with Republicans, who for the first time in his presidency control both houses of Congress.
“My job is not to trim my sails and not tell the American people what we should be doing, pretending somehow we don’t need better roads, that we don’t need more affordable college,” Obama said.
Obama’s budget emphasizes the same themes as his State of the Union address last month, when he challenged Congress to work with him on narrowing the income gap between the very wealthy and everyone else.
While Republicans have let it be known that they have very different ideas about budget and tax priorities, Democrats voiced support for Obama.
“If we are serious about rebuilding the disappearing middle class we need a budget which creates millions of decent-paying jobs,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.
Obama’s six-year $478 billion public works program would provide upgrades for the nation’s highways, bridges and transit systems, in an effort to tap into bipartisan support for spending on badly needed repairs.
Half of that money would come from a one-time mandatory tax on profits that U.S. companies have amassed overseas that would be set at 14 percent.
Higher taxes on the wealthy and on fees paid by the largest financial institutions would help raise $320 billion over 10 years which Obama would use to provide low- and middle-class tax breaks.
His proposals: a credit of up to $500 for two-income families, a boost in the child care tax credit to up to $3,000 per child under age 5, and overhauling breaks that help pay for college.
Obama also is calling for a $60 billion program for free community college for an estimated 9 million students if all states participate. It also proposes expanding child care to more than 1.1 million additional children under the age of 4 by 2025 and seeks to implement universal pre-school.
Obama’s budget will propose easing painful, automatic cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies with a 7 percent increase in annual appropriations, providing an additional $74 billion in 2016, divided between the military and domestic programs.
Many Republicans support the extra military spending but oppose increased domestic spending.
Another centerpiece of the president’s tax proposal is an increase in the capital gains rate on couples making more than $500,000 per year. The rate would climb from 23.8 percent to 28 percent.
Obama wants to require estates to pay capital gains taxes on securities at the time they are inherited. He also is trying to impose a 0.07 percent fee on the roughly 100 U.S. financial companies with assets of more than $50 billion.