February 28, 2009 / 11:03 AM / 10 years ago

Combative Obama vows to fight for his budget

WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - A combative President Barack Obama warned on Saturday he was bracing for a fight against powerful lobbyists and special interests who sought to pick apart the $3.55 trillion budget he wants to advance his agenda of reform.

Obama’s spending blueprint, with its massive $1.17 trillion deficit and tax hikes on the wealthy, seeks to squeeze billions of dollars in savings out of current spending through competitive bidding among health insurers and ending subsidies and tax breaks for banks, agribusiness and oil companies.

“These steps won’t sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business,” the president said in his weekly radio address.

“I know they’re gearing up for a fight as we speak,” he said. “My message to them is this: So am I.”

Republicans, in their radio response, warned that Democratic spending priorities threaten to destroy the American dream that hard work can build a better life for each successive generation of citizens.

“This week, the president submitted to Congress the single largest increase in federal spending in the history of the United States, while driving the deficit to levels that were once thought impossible,” said Senator Richard Burr.

He said Obama’s budget commits the government to a billion dollars a day in interest on the debt over the next decade.

“Now, instead of working hard so our children can have a better life tomorrow, we are asking our children to work hard so that we don’t have to make tough choices today,” Burr said.

Obama said his budget blueprint delivered on the changes he promised in his election campaign: tax cuts for 95 percent of working Americans, a rollback in tax breaks for people making over $250,000, lower healthcare costs, education reform and an expansion in the use of clean, renewable energy.

The president said his budget also reflected the fact the United States faces a financial crisis, a costly recession and a trillion dollar deficit.

“Given this reality, we’ll have to be more vigilant than ever in eliminating the programs we don’t need in order to make room for the investments we do need,” he said.

He said a page-by-page examination of the federal budget had already identified $2 trillion in potential savings over 10 years.

“I realize that passing this budget won’t be easy,” Obama said. “Because it represents real and dramatic change, it also represents a threat to the status quo in Washington.”

The insurance industry would not like having to bid competitively to participate in the Medicare coverage program for the elderly, but it is needed to protect the program and reduce costs, Obama said.

He said banks and big student lenders would not like losing their taxpayer subsidies, but it would save nearly $50 billion and make college more affordable.

And he said oil and gas companies wouldn’t like losing $30 billion in tax breaks, but it was needed to fund renewable energy research.

“The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don’t. I work for the American people,” Obama said.

“I didn’t come here to do the same thing we’ve been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.”

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