POLITICS: White House

President Obama's increasingly late budget gives GOP ammunition

By |
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes

President Obama is making history with his budget this year -- but not the way he wanted.

According to multiple congressional sources, Obama won't unveil his budget until April 8, missing the statutory deadline by more than two months. Presidents in their first year in office routinely miss the deadline -- they take over in late January and have little time to prepare -- but Obama will easily surpass Ronald Reagan's previous record of 45 days, among more seasoned occupants of the White House.

Obama's last two budgets have also been late, but by only a week.

The White House blames the delay on a series of recent fiscal battles with Congress. The uncertainty those battles created made it impossible to craft a budget blueprint, officials said.

But the absence of a presidential budget will be all the more glaring when both Republican and Democratic lawmakers present their respective 2014 plans this week. Traditionally, the White House budget jump-starts the exchange of ideas between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

And some analysts said Obama is validating the Republican claim that he's not serious about plugging chronic deficits, opting to release the political document at a time when it's more convenient.

"The reality is that we have big budget problems -- and everybody knows it," said former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin. "Disregarding the process sends a signal that it's not all that important to him."

But politically speaking, budget staffers on Capitol Hill say there's a clear incentive for Obama to wait. If the president were to unveil his budget at the same time as his Democratic colleagues, Republicans would pounce on any differences and paint liberals as divided.

"It's a don't step on each other's toes thing," explained one Democratic aide.

Senate Democrats haven't passed a budget since the early days of Obama's first year in office, which is part of the reason House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted that the Senate act first during recent budget negotiations.

The administration has repeatedly moved Obama's timetable for submitting a budget, saying it would come in March instead of February and then April instead of March, according to congressional sources.

Despite the expectations on Capitol Hill, the White House still won't say exactly when it will release its budget. Obama already holds the record for longest delay -- 98 days -- but that was in his first year in office.

Some progressives say the dust-up over the timing of the budget is overblown, pointing out that Republicans are hardly clamoring for Obama's policy prescriptions, which are well-known.

"The delay doesn't matter at all," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "This is just silly -- it's a political stunt. It's not like people are sitting on edge waiting to act on this stuff. It's a long negotiating process."

But Baker conceded that Obama's budget could easily be more of a political clarion call than a set of proposals with a realistic chance of gaining bipartisan support.

"He may decide to put out a political document of priorities," Baker said, "knowing full well that Congress will be hard-pressed to pass any of it."

Holtz-Eakin scoffed at that approach, saying, "It doesn't have to be that way. Do you want to lead or not?"

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment