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As a plan for governing, the federal budget for fiscal year 2015 that President Obama proposed this week appears dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. Republican leaders of Congress — notably House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio — already reject it as a basis of bipartisan negotiation; talk of a “grand bargain” on the budget is long forgotten.
But as a political document, the budget plan summarizes the President’s immediate economic agenda, and distinguishes it from GOP priorities. That’s a useful exercise during an election year that will determine partisan control of Congress.
And while Mr. Obama’s plan does far too little to address issues of long-term tax and entitlement reform and of structural deficit and debt reduction — both the President and Congress appear to have put these goals aside — it offers several shorter-term initiatives that would represent sound policy.
The President’s proposal to expand the earned income tax credit (EITC) for childless workers would help an estimated 515,000 Ohioans. The credit is one of Washington’s best tools to promote work and reduce income inequality: The nonpartisan Brookings Institution says the EITC, combined with the federal child tax credit, lifted 283,000 Ohioans out of poverty each year from 2010 to 2012.
Past Republican leaders, including President Ronald Reagan, have extolled the value of the EITC. If GOP lawmakers reject Mr. Obama’s proposed expansion because of the way he wants to pay for it — eliminating unwarranted tax breaks for hedge-fund managers and some wealthy business owners — voters are likely to find that resistance instructive.
The budget also restates other valuable White House initiatives: enacting immigration reform, raising the federal minimum wage, restoring federal benefits for long-term unemployed workers, expanding public preschool education and family leave, creating manufacturing hubs that would train workers for tomorrow’s jobs and promote leading-edge industries such as alternative energy, investing in urgent repair of the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges.
The funding mechanisms the President proposes for these programs — higher tobacco taxes, lower subsidies for the richest farmers and agribusinesses, and curbs on other corporate and individual tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans — are appropriate. And again, they express a clear difference between the parties.
Other elements of the new budget are less promising. President Obama has abandoned his earlier proposal to limit the growth of Social Security benefit increases because of resistance from his own party and Republican indifference. Nor does he offer big new ideas for curbing increases in health-care costs beyond those in the Affordable Care Act.
The budget includes some bad news for this region. The President proposes a cut in funding next year for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a key program to curb toxic pollution, combat invasive species, and restore fish and wildlife habitats in Lake Erie and the other lakes.
Nor does the President’s budget earmark funding for a U.S. customs plaza at the proposed new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The bridge is one of the region’s most important economic development projects, and the plaza is a critical element of it. The plan needs more than rhetorical support from the White House.
The President’s budget is not all that it could or should be, but it does provide a solid blueprint for immediate economic growth and competitiveness, job creation, and broader opportunity through prudent public investment. Republican lawmakers are welcome to offer a plan that they think Americans would prefer — and that would keep the nation’s best interests in mind.