Obama pitches economic recovery to get budget passed
* Obama meets with House Democrats behind closed doors
* Democrat says Obama vowed to tackle the deficit
* Senate debate on budget gets off to rancorous start
By Jeremy Pelofsky and Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Monday tried to sway skeptical Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to back an expensive budget plan for 2010 by arguing it was needed to reverse the economy's sharp downward spiral.
Obama has said his $3.55 trillion 2010 budget would help pull the economy out of a deep recession and begin overhauling healthcare and energy policies, but his fellow Democrats have scaled it back amid worries it will explode the deficit and backfire against them in next year's congressional elections.
Democrats control the House and Senate and are expected to pass separate versions of a five-year budget plan this week, after taking heed of budget forecasters' warning that Obama's plan could add $9.3 trillion in debt over the next decade.
"The president's proposition, I think, will be very compelling for all our members, that this is part and parcel of bringing our country back to economic health, of creating jobs, of stopping foreclosures," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Obama.
"The president said, 'We are all in this together,'" said Representative George Miller, echoing many of his colleagues as they left the closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.
One of the difficult tasks Obama and House Democratic leaders will face is convincing fiscal conservatives to back the budget and Representative John Larson said the president made his pitch directly, telling them that he would endeavor to cut the deficit and pay for new programs created.
"There's no more convincing salesperson in America than Barack Obama," Larson told Reuters. One congressional aide quoted Obama telling lawmakers that he was "serious as a heart attack" about tackling the record trillion-dollar deficits.
Obama also told those concerned about his budget to imagine going home next year to face re-election without passing his calls for change, such as upgrading education, expanding healthcare and moving the nation toward energy independence, Representative Jesse Jackson said.
"The president's budget got a big boost today," Jackson said, though he predicted that at least some Democrats will still vote against it.
REPUBLICANS TO OFFER BUDGET
To address some concerns, Democrats already have dropped some proposals like making permanent Obama's signature tax credit for workers and a request for more money for the financial bailout program.
And while the House and Senate budget proposals embrace Obama's goal of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and overhauling the U.S. healthcare system, most of that work would be left for later in the year.
While Obama was trying to cement House Democrats' support, the sparring in the Senate began with Republicans arguing the budget included too much spending and masked a massive government expansion and accompanying debt. Democrats challenged Republicans to offer viable alternatives.
"The minority can play a major role in this process but only if they offer solutions, not sound bites," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
House Republicans plan later this week to offer their detailed alternative budget. They were widely panned last week after offering a glossy brochure that was full of party platitudes but scant budget details.
The budget legislation is not binding but sets guidelines for spending and tax measures Congress will consider later this year. Democrats need only a simple majority in the Senate and House to pass the budget but must find a delicate balance.
Republicans have accused Democrats of largely adopting Obama's budget plan with minor changes, and also using a narrower five-year budget plan to mask how large the government and debt would grow in later years.
"This budget in our opinion represents a clear and present danger to the financial health of our nation," said Senator Judd Gregg, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "Essentially the president's proposal is to incredibly increase the size of the federal government and the amount it spends."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad denied that the budget hid anything but acknowledged during the first day of debate that overhauling the healthcare and tax systems will be necessary to tame deficits after the next five years.
The Senate and House will consider budget amendments later this week. The two chambers will have to work out their differences next month before a final vote on the budget legislation. (Additional reporting by Corbett Daly and Richard Cowan; Editing by Eric Beech)
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