Calmes Almost Forgets Obama's Deficit Promises, Pushes Political Potency of His Big-Spending Budget Plan

White House reporter Jackie Calmes led Tuesday’s New York Times National section on Obama’s big-spending budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year, “Military Cuts And Tax Plan Are Central To a Budget.”

Calmes invariably sees Obama’s big-spending budgets through rose-colored glasses. This time last year, she was covering Obama's fiscal year 2012 proposal under helpful headlines like this one: "Obama's Budget Focuses On Path To Rein In Deficit." Calmes portrayed it as just right in its balance of spending cuts and tax increases and gave him a pass for putting off tough choices. But now that Obama has forsaken deficit reduction for 2013, Calmes puts the issue on the back-burner and instead emphasizes how the new budget plan may work for Obama politically. Obama’s broken promise on deficit reduction wasn’t broached until paragraph 20 of 22.

President Obama’s final budget request of his term amounts to his agenda for a desired second term, with tax increases on the affluent and cuts in spending, especially from the military, both to reduce deficits and to pay for priorities like education, public works, research and clean energy.

While Republicans issued the usual declarations that the package was dead on arrival at the Capitol on Monday, Mr. Obama harbors hope of winning some victories yet. The likelihood of a post-election lame-duck session and a raft of laws expiring at year’s end -- including the Bush-era tax cuts -- could give him leverage to force compromises even on taxes. Both parties are already calculating for the prospect of a December showdown.

The budget request for the 2013 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, and its projections for the years that follow, reflect Mr. Obama’s vision for another term in which he would switch from years of temporary stimulus measures to promoting long-term initiatives to spur new business and manufacturing activity and help educate Americans for new skills that businesses demand.


Republicans are certain to oppose such tax increases as they have before. But the question this year is whether Mr. Obama after the election, win or lose, can use his veto and looming budget deadlines to force some compromises -- even a “grand bargain” of spending cuts and revenue increases for deficit reduction could be possible, Mr. Obama has told people privately.

“The president’s budget is a reasonable opening move for what will likely be major budget negotiations after the election and before the Bush tax cuts are due to expire at the end of the year,” said Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist policy organization.

“The real work begins in November, and right now these opening moves are just pawns shifting on the chessboard,” Mr. Kessler added. “As a deficit hawk, I’m guardedly optimistic about this budget.”

Kessler was former policy director for the definitely non-"centrist" Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

Calmes took Obama’s dubious budget claims at face value:

The president’s budget incorporates his alternative to the automatic cuts. Mr. Obama claims $3 trillion in deficit reduction from higher revenues and spending cuts, on top of nearly $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years from annual discretionary spending that he and Congress agreed to in a deal last August. That does not include the so-called entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, whose fast-growing costs -- especially for Medicare -- are driving the projections of mounting federal debt.


Republicans slammed Mr. Obama for breaking a promise at the start of his term to cut the deficit in half, measured as a share of the economy. Administration officials counter that few people knew in early 2009 how severe the recession was, and each year global forces like Europe’s debt crisis have stymied a full recovery.

It fell to new Times reporter Jonathan Weisman to do the heavy skeptical lifting in a related story Tuesday. Weisman focused on Republican criticism:

Republicans in and out of Washington savaged President Obama’s proposed budget for the 2013 fiscal year as a broken promise on deficit reduction made worse by a series of gimmicks that overstate what budget savings there are....At the heart of Republican objections is accounting. Mr. Obama boasted of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years in his proposal. Republican budget writers on Capitol Hill saw a fraction of that, as little as $300 billion....The one charge the White House has no defense against is that with the new budget, Mr. Obama has broken his 2009 promise to cut the deficit in half in his first term. The deficit that year was a record $1.4 trillion. The deficit in fiscal 2012 will total $1.3 trillion.