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Obama’s budget cuts big on politics, modest on dollars

Copies of President Obama's fiscal 2010 federal budget books are seen at the White House. After a line-by-line scrub of the federal budget, Obama has signed off on a roster of 121 budget cuts totaling $17 billion.

Copies of President Obama's fiscal 2010 federal budget books are seen at the White House. After a line-by-line scrub of the federal budget, Obama has signed off on a roster of 121 budget cuts totaling $17 billion.

From cuts in water projects to elimination of nuclear waste and weapons programs, President Obama’s modest proposal for $17 billion in spending cuts is as much a political document as it is a budget blueprint.

The list of 121 programs he wants to cut or eliminate drew immediate ridicule Thursday from opponents, who called it a drop in a $3.6 trillion federal budget bucket.

And it’s a misnomer to call some of Obama’s proposals cuts, because they are either replaced by spending elsewhere in the budget, or would simply push spending back to later years.

Still, Obama is making a statement. Some cuts are campaign promises. Others, like the elimination of a proposed Nevada nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain, address concerns of powerful Obama allies. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has fought that facility for most of his 23-year Senate career.

Among the major points of Obama’s proposed cuts released Thursday:

• About half are in the Defense Department, and include previously announced reductions like the C-17 transport plane, that fit into his pledge to make the military more streamlined, modern and cost-efficient. For example, he proposes pushing back construction of a new Ford Class aircraft carrier that has had cost and design problems.

Obama also is proposing $793 million in cuts in the military’s $7.7 billion recruitment and retention budget. That spending more than doubled from 2004-08, when the military was stretched thin with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama said that “interest in joining the military generally rises in a challenging economic environment,” so there’s less need for advertising, recruiting and retention bonuses. But critics are likely to argue that military is still stretched as it sends more troops to Afghanistan.

• Obama said he would not fund a planned $60 million down payment to update the nation’s nuclear warheads because “it is not consistent with presidential commitments to move towards a nuclear free-world.”

• Obama wants to cut $91 million out of a $288 million program to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Critics like Reid have said it poses environmental and safety risks. Obama directed that no more money be spent on Yucca and that the reduced funds be used to find a different way and location to store radioactive waste from nuclear power plants.

• The president returned to a campaign promise to roll back “earmarks” – pet project requests by individual legislators – by proposing to peel back $145 million for 301 wastewater and drinking water projects already in the 2009 budget.

But even if he gets his way – and the lobbying to keep money flowing to these projects could be fierce – some of these projects could go forward. Obama said the earmarks should compete against all other proposals, and that he is roughly doubling, to about $4 billion, federal spending on such projects.

Obama was criticized for going against a campaign pledge by signing a $410 billion spending bill in March that included billions in special projects left over from the previous Congress.

• In aiming cuts at big farmers, Obama makes a similar argument he makes on tax cuts. He wants to focus government subsidies to the middle- and lower-income farmers.

He’s proposing to eliminate subsidies altogether for farmers with sales over $500,000 and to limit payments to any one farmer to $250,000, for $3.8 billion in estimated reductions over five years.

But previous attempts have been rebuffed in Congress.

Chuck Raasch is political editor for Gannett News Service. E-mail: craasch@gns.gannett.com.


Raasch’s blog

Get more behind-the-scenes reports, context and analysis about politicians and the political process in Raasch’s Furthermore blog. Look for it here.

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