February 26, 2009 / 4:58 PM / in 9 years

Top Republicans rip into Obama budget plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. congressional Republicans, having vowed to return to the conservative ideals of limited government, denounced President Barack Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget on Thursday as excessive and misdirected.

<p>A spectator applauds as U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his primetime address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst</p>

While Obama’s fellow Democrats control Congress, he will need the support of fiscal moderates and conservatives in his party, and possibly some Republicans, to pass any budget.

Republicans, already angry over Obama’s success in passing a $787 billion economic stimulus package without their support, indicated they were ready to fight.

“I have serious concerns with this budget, which demands hard-working American families and job creators turn over more of their hard-earned money to the government to pay for unprecedented spending increases,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Obama’s first budget proposal, for the 2010 fiscal year, includes steps to end the deepening recession while also enacting a bold agenda to expand healthcare, upgrade schools, move the U.S. toward energy independence and roll back tax cuts for the rich.

It also foresees a $1.75 trillion deficit for the 2009 fiscal year, but would reduce it to $533 billion by 2013.

“I think we just ought to admit we’re broke. We can’t continue to pile debt on the backs of our kids and grandkids,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner.

Republican Senator Judd Gregg, who withdrew as Obama’s nominee to head the Commerce Department, citing differences over policy, offered a stinging rebuke.

“The budget outline shows a half-hearted attempt to reduce the trillion-dollar deficits we face, largely through more tax hikes that will only hurt the economy, when it should take this opportunity to exercise aggressive spending restraint,” said Gregg, the top Republican on the Budget Committee.

A group of 49 fiscally conservative House Democrats, whose commitment to deficit reduction has at times put some of them at odds with Obama’s economic program, hailed Obama’s budget for presenting what they called an honest fiscal picture.

“To begin to set our nation back on the right fiscal track, we must first understand and acknowledge how big of a hole we are in,” said Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a leader of the Democratic “Blue Dog” Coalition.

“This budget is a good starting point.”

BUSH-ERA DEFICITS

Republicans have long touted themselves as champions of limited government, but surrendered that claim in approving a series of big-deficit budgets during the administration of Obama’s predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.

Republicans vow to return to their conservative principles as they seek to rebound from last November’s election when Democrats won control of both the White House and Congress for the first time since 1992.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, praised Obama’s spending priorities, saying, “At long last a budget that is a statement of our national values.”

Pelosi also needled Republicans for what she saw as their new-found interest in limited government.

“Perhaps ... they (the Republicans) have amnesia,” Pelosi said, noting that with Bush at the helm they turned budget surpluses into deficits, in part through significantly higher government spending.

Boehner acknowledged Republicans spent too much while they were in charge.

“But if you begin to look at what’s happened over the last month and what’s being proposed in this budget, the president is beginning to make President Bush look like a piker,” he said.

Obama and Republicans have promised to try to find common ground, but success may be elusive. Just three Republicans voted for his stimulus package earlier this month, and the party was able to force changes through their ability to stop the legislation with Senate procedural roadblocks.

Budgets cannot be subject to such procedural hurdles, but Obama will likely need bipartisan support to win passage of resulting individual spending bills.

Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Kevin Drawbaugh, Donna Smith, Richard Cowan and Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Eric Walsh

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