US foreign aid and military programs will be on the chopping block as the US Congress looks at ways to rein in the country’s soaring debt, a top lawmaker allied with President Barack Obama warned Monday.
Obama, who presented his budget for the 2011 fiscal year that opens October 1, has called for sparing the military from a discretionary spending freeze he sought to curb the record-high US deficit.
But Democratic Representative Dave Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee that writes annual spending bills, said he would consider cuts to all government agencies including defense and international aid.
“We will not exceed his requested level for appropriations; but we will also not exempt any department or activity from review, including foreign aid and the Pentagon, because none of them are without waste,” he said.
Obey also said that his “number one focus” would be an election-year effort to bring down double-digit unemployment, a burden for Democrats facing US voters angry about the sputtering US economy.
Democratic Representative Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, shot back that foreign aid accounts for barely one percent of the annual US budget.
“In these tough economic times, it?s particularly important to invest in an ounce of prevention so that we won?t need a pound of cure,” Berman said.
Their comments came after Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week rejected Obama’s proposal to exempt the military from a suggested spending freeze, saying that military waste must be on the chopping block.
“Curbing military contractors? wasteful practices must be part of our efforts to restore accountability, transparency, and fiscal discipline to the federal budget,” she said Monday.
On Sunday, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner told NBC television that he, too, would favor going “line by line” through the Pentagon’s budget in the hunt for “wasteful spending or unnecessary spending.”
Other Republicans scoffed at Obama’s fiscal blueprint for the 2011 fiscal year, saying he had not gone far enough to slash waste and denouncing his plans for letting lapse a tax cut on the wealthiest Americans.
Senator Judd Gregg, the Senate Budget Committee’s top Republican, condemned a “more of the same” budget “that claims to be fiscally responsible, but just below the surface contains more spending, more borrowing and more taxes.”
“After a year in office that has put us on a pace to double the debt by 2013, the president should have a tougher plan to address our fiscal crisis, because this budget will solve nothing,” said Gregg.
The panel’s Democratic chairman, Kent Conrad, vowed to review Obama’s fiscal blueprint and work with the White House and lawmakers on “passing a budget this year that both spurs job and economic growth and is fiscally responsible.”
The Democratic senator praised Obama for “a remarkable turnaround” in the US economy and said the president’s “policies are clearly working,” noting that the economy was no longer shrinking but growing and job losses had slowed.
“But we know that economic weakness continues and that our debt is growing,” said Conrad, who promoted a short-term plan including tax credits to spur employment and a long-term plan “to pivot to focus on controlling our debt.”
Conrad underlined Obama’s pledge to form a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission to consider ways of doing so, a step the US Senate rejected last week after a group of Republican backers deserted the proposal.
Figures released Monday under Obama’s government budget for the 2011 fiscal year show that the 2010 deficit would shatter the record deficit of 1.413 trillion dollars for 2009.
Accumulating deficits beyond this year — although expected to decline — would double federal debt held by the public to 15.686 trillion dollars in seven years and push it even higher to 18.573 trillion dollars in 2020.
Measured against the size of the economy, the 1.556 trillion budget shortfall in 2010 would equal a hefty 10.6 percent of the gross domestic product, the basic measure of a country’s overall economic output.
Officials say a sustainable deficit is about three percent of GDP.
Obama’s budget plan is a non-binding framework for government spending, which is controlled by the US Congress.