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The budget is still the GOP’s signature hit on President Obama

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is nothing if not persistent. And it’s always the same issue with the same motive. The issue is the budget.

And to hear McConnell and the GOP leaders tell it, President Barack Obama’s alleged penchant is for squandering tens of billions on wasteful, non-productive spending programs. McConnell even tossed in the GOP’s favorite slur of Democrats when he lambasted Obama’s budget proposals as “extra goodies for tax-and-spend liberals.”

The added twist this time around is the GOP has stood Obama’s emphasis on middle-class job creation on its head and claims that the Obama’s budget proposals do absolutely nothing to create jobs and economic improvement for the middle class.

The motive is to tar Obama and the Democrats as big-government serial splurgers. The GOP peddles this line again to knock down any talk of a “grand bargain,” a combination of tax increases on the wealthy in exchange for more and deeper spending cuts.

This is more GOP doggerel. Obama in prior budget proposals offered to cut community service block grants that fund an array of community education, health and social service programs in poor, underserved, largely inner-city neighborhoods; cut programs in science, technology, youth mentoring programs and employment and training assistance; and even tweak the GOP’s prime slash and burn targets, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The cuts to Medicare and Medicaid would be stretched out over a decade, and there will be no major structural reforms in the program, which is what the GOP demands and which is wildly at odds with what the majority of Americans need, especially those who are dependent for their health coverage on the programs. But Obama still put the Medicare restructure proposals on the budget table and they have remained there.

Obama went even further and downplayed the surge in poverty that has dumped nearly 50 million Americans in or near poverty. Without government subsistence programs most would sink deeply, beneath the poverty line. This was not by choice. He was under relentless pressure from the GOP budget hawks and a big chunk of the public to make cuts in these vital programs or risk sinking the federal government, so the GOP screamed in a deeper pool of debt and deficit spending.

The topper is that the deficit has fallen further and faster in the last two years than at any point in the past two decades. And Obama has repeatedly agreed and pushed for a drop in the corporate tax and an overhaul of the tax system that if anything would be even more business friendly. But none of this has been enough to keep the GOP from stalling a budget deal.

This is where the GOP’s insidious motive comes again into play, namely naked, crass, go-for-the-jugular politics. By embarrassing Obama at every turn on the budget, the GOP hopes to make him and the Democrats the perennial fall guy for the budget gridlock.

The GOP’s budget sparring match with Obama took an even more absurd turn when a pack of the most rabid House Republicans voted down a handful of spending proposals — most notably on a transportation and housing appropriations bill that cut spending on programs in these areas. They claimed that even the reduced spending was still too high. This triggered a rarity, Republican infighting, in which one faction accused the other of “unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts.”

The result is that at present there is no new spending appropriation bill that Congress is likely to pass any time soon.

A year ago when the GOP went after Obama on the budget it gave him little room to maneuver. Much of the public bought into the GOP’s bogus line that Obama’s reckless spending was hopelessly drowning the government in a sea of red ink.

Nervous foreign investors as well as a slew of financial experts and economists endlessly claimed that the budget deficit — projected to soar to nearly $1.6 trillion in the last fiscal year, a post-World War II record — would saddle the nation with higher taxes; deeper cuts in education, health and social services; staggering permanent debt; and possibly even bankruptcy.

That doomsday scenario was part political hyperbole, part financial panic. Even then many economists noted that the claim of financial Armageddon was way overblown. The projected deficit was about 10 percent of gross domestic product. This would only be great enough to threaten economic growth if it were sustained for decades.

Yet even that supposedly doomsday estimate was proportionally far smaller than the deficits that the United States ran during and immediately after World War II.

This means little to a GOP that has repeatedly latched onto the budget as its main signature hit against Obama. There’s little reason to think it will change this go round.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.