• Obama backs spending increase, hits Republicans


    WASHINGTON: A combative US President Barack Obama unveiled plans to increase government spending, in defiance of his Republican opponents controlling Congress.

    Rolling out budget proposals for the coming year that would increase spending by $74 billion above an agreed cap, Obama challenged newly empowered Republicans to back measures designed to help the middle class.

    Visiting Philadelphia to address Democratic lawmakers, Obama made a plea to end what the White House has dubbed “manufactured crises and mindless austerity” prompted by automated budget cuts, the so-called sequester.

    The limits came into effect in 2013 after Democrats and Republicans were unable to reach a deal on cutting the deficit. If fully enacted they would cut spending by around $1 trillion by 2021.

    Obama’s plan would increase spending by $74 billion — about seven percent above the level set by the cap — with extra cash split roughly equally between defense and non-defense spending.

    Some $530 billion would be spent on “non-defense discretionary” spending, an increase of $37 billion over the cap, and $561 billion would be used for defense spending, $38 billion over the cap.

    Obama’s full budget will be released on Monday but, with his Republican opponents in control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, it is likely to face stiff opposition.

    But Obama did not appear ready to shirk from the fight Thursday, mocking Republican lawmakers for changing their rhetoric ahead of a 2016 general election.

    Obama even took a shot at Mitt Romney, the Republican he beat in 2012 and who looks likely to run again.

    “We have a former presidential candidate on the other side who suddenly is just deeply concerned about poverty, that’s great! Let’s go, let’s do something about it.”

    But beyond the political grandstanding Obama will have an uphill struggle to pass his plans.

    “I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of support for going back on the commitments we made to reduce spending,” Republican Senator John Thune told AFP Thursday.

    “It’s going to be very hard to feature a scenario where Republicans on Capitol Hill are going to go along with some of the president’s recommendations to increase spending.”

    Republicans have been split on the cuts, with divisions emerging between those who want to dramatically slash all government and those who are staunchly supportive of military spending.

    “Republicans are concerned about the impact of the sequester on the military budget,” Thune acknowledged.

    “The military is an area where there probably is bipartisan agreement that we’ve got to do better.”

    Still, the White House recognized that its proposals were just a starting point.

    “There is a Republican majority in Congress they will have a chance to put forward their own ideas,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

    “This is the beginning of a negotiation, but it is important. Budgets are important because they are a way that we can codify our values and our priorities.”

    Obama has also proposed closing tax loopholes, using the money to help fund infrastructure spending and research into antibiotic resistant bacteria and precision medicine.

    Republicans are likely to paint that as a tax increase, something many have vowed to oppose.

    Obama also outlined proposals mentioned in his recent State of the Union address, namely guaranteeing paid sick leave and making community college free for some students.



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