Obama's Budget: Winners and Losers
By Ed O’Keefe and Steve Vogel
President Obama unveiled a record $3.5 trillion budget today, and not surprisingly, with so much at stake, there were plenty of winners and losers. Here's an assessment of the government agencies and departments that make out well and not so well in the president’s first budget. A reminder that the proposed numbers and projects are just that – proposals – and will require Congressional debate and approval.
Read the budget, then read tomorrow's Post for detailed agency-by-agency assessments and leave YOUR thoughts in the comments section.
AmeriCorps: The president's budget sets aside funds to put AmeriCorps "on a path to expand from its current 75,000 funded slots to 250,000." The budget would also expand Senior Corps, for people age 55 and older seeking volunteer opportunities. Separately, the State Department will get more funding for the Peace Corps and enough to "significantly increase" the size of the Foreign Service.
Defense Department: The Pentagon would receive $533.7 billion, a modest four-percent increase over 2009, but better than anticipated by many, including Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. The secretary told reporters today that given the dire economic conditions, the Pentagon would have done well simply to get a cost-of-inflation increase atop the 2009 budget. “I believe we’ve done somewhat better than that,” Gates added, “but I think we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.” That includes decisions on big-ticket programs, such as how many more F-22 fighters the Air Force is able to purchase. The funding increase will allow the Pentagon to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, improve medical treatment of wounded service members, and reform the acquisition process, according to the White House. An additional $205.5 billion is being requested to support the wars in Iraqa and Afghanistan and for other overseas operations, including $75.5 billion for the remainder of fiscal year 2009 and $130 billion for the following year.
EPA: The agency is among the big winners, slated to receive $10.5 billion under the proposed budget, a 34-percent increase. The budget includes $3.9 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, or what the administration terms a “historic increase” for the program. It will fund over 1,300 new water projects and over 700 new drinking water projects. The EPA's operating budget, which includes money for enforcement and research activities, will total $3.9 billion, its highest level ever. The budget also includes $475 million for a new EPA-led initiative to restore the Great Lakes by battling invasive species and pollution.
National Infrastructure Bank: This fulfills an Obama-Biden campaign promise and the wishes of several lawmakers who have called for such a bank. It's "designed to deliver financial resources to priority infrastructure projects of significant national or regional economic benefit," according to the budget document. "The mission of this entity will be to not only provide direct Federal investment but also to help foster coordination through State, municipal and private co-investment in our Nation’s most challenging infrastructure needs." It's not clear if the bank would become part of an existing government department or operate independently.
SNAP: Formerly known as Food Stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, operated by USDA's Food and Nutrition Services, gets a temporary bump in this budget. Americans have applied for benefits in record numbers, and as The Eye has previously reported, FNS distributes the funds to state and local governments and provides oversight of the program. It accounts for two-thirds of USDA's budget, but less than one percent of its staff. The budget grants a temporary increase in funding "to help strengthen the food purchasing power of low-income families." There's also funding for a pilot program to increase participation among low-income seniors.
It's difficult to clearly determine the true extent of cutbacks or changes to government departments or programs since the line-by-line, year-by-year details will not emerge until April. The proposed budget calls for the end of some small, ineffective or duplicative programs at Agriculture, Interior, HUD and Education. Here are a few notable losers:
The Department of Homeland Security, which is only receiving a 1 percent increase in its budget, to $42.7 billion. The amount is less than DHS received two
years ago, when it had a $50 billion budget. However, the administration says it will increase aviation security with minimal cost to taxpayers by increasing the existing aviation passenger security fee beginning in 2012. The budget also includes $1.4 billion for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program to ensure that illegal aliens who commit crimes are identified and removed from the country.
The Census Bureau (for now): The budget provides “over $4 billion of additional funding" for next year’s head count. While that’s $240 million more than was envisioned in President Bush's last budget, the bureau requested $7.5 billion to $8 billion. Yes – it got $1 billion in the economic stimulus package, but OMB considered those funds "forward funding" of what would have been spent in 2010. While Bureau staffers should rejoice that the debate is over precisely how much more they will be receiving, should the Obama administration have used the economic stimulus package to offset budget requests? As several critics have noted, a stimulus is supposed to be extra and not used to supplant regular government work. Concerned lawmakers are likely to view this funding request differently, and the proposed "over $4 billion" certainly leaves the door open to more funding.
NASA: While there's plenty of money alloted to help fund the goal of getting Americans back on the moon by 2020, Obama's budget creates a gap between the current Space Shuttle program, set to expire in April 2010, and the next-generation Constellation program, slated for takeoff in 2015. During the "Shuttle gap" the U.S. will depend on Russia for rides to the International Space Station. Members of the Space community are understandably concerned about the five-year gap. In the words of one NASA observer: "Why would you send the money to Russia to launch our astronauts when you could keep the money and the jobs here?”
Privatization: The Bush administration's push to privatize many traditional government roles appears to be a casualty of the new budget. The summary released today declares that "critical Government functions will not be performed by the private sector for purely ideological reasons," although it provides no specifics of what changes will be made. The Obama position is being hailed by federal employee unions, which have been sharply critical of the Bush administration. “Their ideological bias forced agencies to contract out regardless of cost or quality, and at the expense of the integrity of federal programs as well as public accountability," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "It looks like that may be coming to an end.”
After reading the budget, leave YOUR thoughts in the comments section below.
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