The Liberal Attack on Obama's Budget

| Mon Feb. 14, 2011 1:45 PM EST

President Obama has released a $3.7 trillion blueprint for his 2012 budget request. The administration says its proposal would cut deficits by $1.1 trillion over the next decade. Sure, the president's suggested cuts pale in comparison to the $100 billion House Republicans want to slash from the budget. But it's not just the GOP cuts that have liberals worried: some of Obama's proposals are upsetting the left, too. Last week, for example, National Journal's Marc Ambinder broke the news that Obama would be putting home heating subsidies for low-income families on the chopping block. That and other proposed cuts have unsettled liberal budget-watchers, who fret that vital funding could be eliminated in the name of political compromise.

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn notes that Obama promised to give working families and education a boost but now supports cutting assistance for low-income college students and other vulnerable Americans:

Pell Grants, for low-income college students, are going to take a hit, albeit a carefully crafted one. There will be more money for building high-speed rail but less for helping low-income families pay their heating bills.

Is this a good thing? In absolute terms, clearly, the answer is no. The demand for Pell Grants is unusually high right now; among other things, cash-strapped states are raising tuitions at state schools just as cash-strapped students and families have fewer resources to pay them. Energy costs for next winter, when the cut in heating assistance would take effect, are likely to be higher than at any time since 2008. Unless the economic recovery quickens very suddenly, plenty of people will struggle to pay those heating bills. And those are just two examples of program reductions that will leave needy Americans even more needy."

Liberal groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have lashed out against the president's cuts, accusing the White House of forcing the needy to pay for the $538 billion tax-cut compromise that passed last December. The PCCC blasted the administration in a press statement Monday:

Every proposed cut to necessary programs like Pell Grants and heating for low-income seniors needs to be judged in the context of the unnecessary tax cuts for Wall Street millionaires that passed at the end of last year. Proposing even more tax breaks for Wall Street banks while slashing and burning necessary government programs is right-wing radicalism, and no Democratic president should be part of it.

All that said, Cohn and other more moderate critics acknowledge that Republicans are pushing cuts to Pell grants and home heating subsidies that are even deeper than the ones the White House has proposed. The GOP has also proposed cuts to many other essential programs, including food inspections and nutritional assistance for pregnant women and infants. When push comes to shove, liberals will undoubtedly hope that the final budget is closer to Obama's proposal than it is to the bleak Republican alternative. But on the left, the debate will continue over whether Obama went too far or chose the wrong programs to slash—and whether the White House ceded too much ground in the name of politics and hurt the country's neediest in the process.

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