Obama's balancing act likely to jostle Congress

The $3.6 trillion budget unveiled in detail by President Obama on Thursday will set off fiscal, ideological and political battles with Congress.

While attention focused initially on $17 billion in cuts that Obama chose to highlight, the broader budget includes much larger spending increases and controversial policy decisions. Among the potential sticking points:

•The 121 programs Obama wants to kill or shrink account for less than one-half of 1% of the budget, and less than 10% of the interest due next year on the $11.2 trillion federal debt. "While the president claims that $17 billion in cuts is significant, it masks the magnitude of the fiscal issues our nation faces," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

•Obama targeted the Pentagon for 56% of his proposed cuts, including major cuts in weapons systems previously announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The 11 biggest proposed cuts are in defense programs.

"Despite so many security threats emerging or growing, the administration envisions a military that will have less strength to meet them," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

•The budget eliminates funds for abstinence education, eliminates Nevada's Yucca Mountain as the nation's future source for nuclear waste and targets thousands of congressional earmarks for elimination, assuring ideological as well as parochial battles.

"None of this will be easy," Obama said. "For every dollar we seek to save, there will be those who have an interest in seeing it spent."

Obama is one who wants the money spent. White House budget director Peter Orszag acknowledged it's impossible to say whether cutting inefficient programs reduces the deficit or shifts to programs getting increases. "What we're trying to do is reorient government activity towards things that work," he said.

The effort to turn attention to fiscal austerity follows a three-month period in which Obama signed a $787 billion economic stimulus package and a $410 billion spending bill to complete the 2009 budget that included about 9,000 earmarks.

Now the administration seeks new and expanded programs for veterans' care, environmental protection, low-income housing, early-childhood education and global health initiatives. It wants to double foreign aid by 2015.

Compared with those lofty goals, critics said, $17 billion in cuts is minuscule. "It's like taking a teaspoon of water out of a bathtub while you keep the spigot on at full speed," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the Senate Budget Committee's top Republican.

Still, Obama did what presidents do in targeting programs large and small that, he said, don't work. He singled out a $465 million program to build an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter that the Pentagon doesn't want, a $35 million long-range radio navigation system outmoded by GPS and a $632,000, one-person Department of Education office in Paris.

"There is a lot of money that's being spent inefficiently, ineffectively and in some cases in ways that are actually pretty stunning," Obama said.