It is his final budget blueprint, his last chance to put his vision for the future in front of voters and Congress, but Republicans will not even pretend to give President Obama’s last budget plan any serious consideration, a brush off that upends decades of decorum on Capitol Hill.
For more than four decades, congressional leaders have invited the President’s budget director to Capitol Hill to– at the very least– ceremoniously testify about the proposed vision, but this year, Obama’s budget director Shaun Donovan was stiffed.
“Nothing in the president’s prior budgets – none of which have ever balanced – has shown that the Obama Administration has any real interest in actually solving our fiscal challenges or saving critical programs like Medicare and Social Security from insolvency,” House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) said in a statement. “Rather than spend time on a proposal that, if anything like this Administration’s previous budgets, will double down on the same failed policies that have led to the worst economic recovery in modern times, Congress should continue our work on building a budget that balances and that will foster a healthy economy.”
In his $4 trillion budget, Obama proposed investing $320 billion in “clean” public transportation initiatives over the next decade, in universal access to preschool and in food access programs for underprivileged kids. He also proposed raising the capital gains tax and imposing a new tax on crude oil, which are both political nonstarters for Republicans. Yet, the President also highlighted other spending priorities that GOP members of Congress would have a hard time railing against including a plan to spend $11 billion to fight the Islamic State, money to end veteran homelessness and a $1 billion investment in cancer research.
Since he was elected, Obama has gone head to head with Republicans in Congress who have seemed to reject the president’s ideas with a ferocity that has been unrivaled. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said that the decision not to entertain Donovan on the budget committee came from the committee chairmen, but that “we support the chairman.”
From his executive actions on immigration to his signature health care bill, Republicans have vowed at every turn to reverse Obama’s policies even after they have been implemented. In 2010, the now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), bluntly told National Journal that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
But, the backlash–especially on the President’s final budget–is raising eyebrows and questions about Congressional Republicans’ motivations.
“When I examine the GOP’s mistreatment of Barack Obama in the historical context of presidential scrutiny, I can only assume there are some deep, racial motivations behind their actions,” one senior staffer to a Congressional Black Caucus member said. “Republican leadership has long tried to disguise the racial undertones employed by some of their colleagues, but I think it’s painfully clear the disdain many have for President Obama comes from dark place.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA)–one of only two black Democrats on the House’s budget committee–said in a statement to TPM that “the decision of Budget Committee Republicans to reject the President’s budget – sight unseen, without even a hearing – further shows that Congressional Republican are glued to their extremist, Tea Party agenda.”
“It is clear from their budget proposals and actions that they have no interest in effectively governing or improving the lives of American families,” Lee said.
But even from a practical standpoint, many say that entertaining the president’s budget plan even if it is considered to be aspirational is part of the process.
Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advised John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, told the New York Times that “permitting the administration the courtesy of explaining its intent and what it thinks of the policy should have been maintained” and that inviting Donovan would have given Republicans a chance to voice their opposition in a public forum.
G. William Hoagland, who worked as a Republican staff director on the Senate Budget Committee also told the New York Times in the same story, “While the last budget of an outgoing president is usually aspirational, and sets a theme for what he or she hopes will be followed up by his or her successor, it nonetheless should be reviewed by the Congress.”
The decision by Price and Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) to dismiss Obama’s budget blueprint from even having a cordial hearing is a stark reminder of how deep the resistance to Obama has become among Hill Republicans.
“When I initially envisioned the 114th Congress making history, I hoped it would be attributed to our efforts to end gender and racial inequality and to help struggling Americans escape poverty,” said Gwen Moore (D-WI), the other black Democratic member of the Budget Committee. “But thanks to our Republican counterparts, I fear the 114th Congress will now be remembered for its unprecedented disrespect toward our nation’s Commander In Chief and its embarrassing inability to govern. Needless to say, I share my constituents’ frustration over such petty partisanship.”