Obama budget revisits small-bore cuts
WASHINGTON -- Even as it adds fuel to battles over taxes and Social Security, President Barack Obama’s budget will reprise lots of smaller bore proposals that have gone nowhere in a gridlocked Washington.
Ideas like higher Transportation Security Administration fees on airline tickets, the end of Saturday mail delivery and higher pension contributions for federal workers are the hardy perennials of Obama’s budgets, reprised year after year, along with more widely known proposals like taxing oil companies and the rich. Many of the ideas have been seen as candidates for inclusion in broader deficit deals that have never come to pass.
Obama proposes some $200 billion in savings outside of health care costs, including a new fee on telecommunications companies and other users of federally licensed communications spectrum and billions of dollars claimed by selling off excess federal properties. They are part of Obama’s most recent, spurned budget offer to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in December and will be reprised when Obama’s budget comes out on Wednesday.
Efforts for a "grand bargain" on the budget between Obama and Congress have proven elusive, however, and stand-alone attempts to advance the proposals -- including cutting farm subsidies and overhauling the Postal Service -- have bogged down as well.
At issue are dozens of longstanding options to trim the federal budget. They include eliminating direct payments to farmers even if they don’t produce a crop and curbing $30 billion worth of Medicare payments over a decade to hospitals to reimburse them for patients who don’t pay deductibles and copayments.
But the nature of budget cuts or new fees is that they often go after powerful interest groups. So they typically die, only to be reprised year after year as the administration assembles its budget wish list.
For instance, Obama’s proposal to save about $140 billion over a decade by reducing Medicare payments to drug companies is opposed by both Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s proposal to require federal workers to contribute more to their pensions is opposed by both his labor union allies and many Democratic lawmakers alike. And legislation to stem losses by the Postal Service by allowing it to cut Saturday delivery and close facilities has to pass through a gantlet of unions and lawmakers worried of shuttering facilities in their districts and states.
Senate Republicans have easily repelled recent attempts by the Appropriations Committee to enact a $2.50 increase in airline security fees that would double the per-passenger TSA fee for those taking nonstop flights that’s based on proposals of the budgets of both Obama and George W. Bush. It’ll be reprised on Wednesday.
The only hope for many such proposals is that they get wrapped together as part of a bigger budget deal that’s sold to wary lawmakers as shared sacrifice.
The dozens of often small-bore proposals in Obama’s budget are being overshadowed by more controversial ideas like reducing the cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries or renewed calls to increase taxes, like a proposal to cap deductions at a 28 percent rate instead of the top rate of 39.6 percent.
The Social Security cuts have inflamed many liberal Democrats and whipped up opposition from advocacy groups like AARP, the powerful lobby for seniors.
But sometimes it seems like the little stuff can be almost as difficult to pass. Most of them promise lots of irritation while doing relatively little to curb the deficit. A new $100 per flight fee on airlines and owners of private jets has whipped up opposition from the airlines -- who are large employers across the country -- but would bring in less than $1 billion a year.
Efforts in the Democratic-controlled Senate to cut farm subsidies and stanch the fiscal bloodletting at the Postal Service have fallen significantly short of Obama’s targets. The House wants to go further but legislation on both fronts failed to make it to the floor.
Obama also will revive a plan to repeal a tax break taken by businesses that buy corporate jets. It has proven stubbornly difficult to repeal.
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