Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Obama Courts Youth in 2013 Budget Address
Monday, February 13, 2012
Proposing a budget that would shrink the deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years, President Obama hopes to stay in office for four of them.
"The budget is a reflection of shared responsibility," Obama said in a Monday morning address to students at Northern Virginia Community College, continuing to hit on a major theme of his 2012 campaign. "It says if we're serious about investing in our future—community colleges, new energy technologies, basic research—we've got to pay for it."
It's a virtual certainty, however, that Congress won't agree to pay for most of what Obama's proposing—even assuming he's still in office this time next year.
In order to cover nearly half a trillion dollars in transportation spending, and a host of other multi-billion-dollar programs for things like improved job placement out of community colleges, electrical vehicles, and renewable energy, the President seeks to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and scale back spending on Defense and Homeland Security, among other government agencies.
Here are just a few of the measures contained in the 2013 budget:
- Provides $476 billion, six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill
- Allowing the expiration of Bush tax cuts for high-income Americans, and observing the "Buffett Rule" that households making more than $1 million a year pay no less than 30 percent of their income in taxes
- Five-year non-security discretionary spending freeze
- Eliminates tax breaks for oil, gas, and coal companies, while setting a goal of one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and doubling electricity from clean energy sources by 2035
- Expands Race to the Top concept to early childhood education, school districts, university funding, and job training
- Cuts $78 billion from Pentagon spending over next five years
- Half of all government agencies will see top line reduced from 2010 levels
All this and more. That's a lot of individual pieces for Congress to sign off on, more than are reasonable to expect.
That means the budget more closely reflects an investment in the President's re-election than in realistic initiatives over the next decade.
From what he stressed this morning during his speech to college students, Obama looks like he's focused on recapturing a large contingent that helped him win in 2008: young voters. The speech was all about making education more affordable and jobs easier to find, and taxing the wealthiest Americans to help make that happen.
"Right now, we're scheduled to spend $1 trillion more on what was intended to be a temporary tax cut for the wealthiest two percent of Americans," Obama said. "Do we want to keep these tax breaks in place, or invest in everything else?"
Obama kept his message narrow, not going into the dollar amounts he's going to cut from cabinet-level departments or how much he's going to spend on transportation. The finer, more controversial points were left for another day. Right out of the gate, this is what Obama wants you to remember about the budget: it reduces the deficit, raises taxes on the rich, and invests in education. It's no coincidence that these first remarks were delivered at a community college.
As the budget process unfolds, the political impossibility of most of these proposals will become apparent. But putting them in the budget means Obama can campaign on them—indeed, is campaigning on them. It's as if Obama is trying to tell the youth—for a second time—that he's on their side.
"We don't need the tax breaks," the President said, referring to the wealthiest Americans—not coincidentally, the class most politicians belong in, the class most students don't, and the class that's been defended primarily by Obama's Republican opponents.
"We don't need the tax breaks," he said, "you need them."