With President Obama's release on Monday of a budget for next year and House action this week on a Republican plan for immediate deep spending cuts, the nation is getting its clearest view since the president took office of the parties' competing visions of the role of government, the urgency of addressing the deficit and the best path to long-term economic success.
Mr. Obama used his budget for the fiscal year 2012 and beyond to make the case for selectively cutting spending while increasing resources in areas like education and clean energy initiatives that hold the potential for long-term payoffs in economic growth. With this year's deficit projected to hit a record, $1.6 trillion, he laid out a path for bringing down annual deficits to more sustainable levels over the rest of the decade.
Republicans said it was not nearly enough to address chronic fiscal imbalances and reduce the role of the federal government in the economy and society.
Neither party has put forward specific proposals to begin grappling with the most pressing long-term budget problem: the huge costs in the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs as the population ages and medical costs rise, a bill that could overwhelm the government and crimp the economy if not addressed.
"We're doing things that are the most painful and of least long-term economic value because we're not willing to do the things that everybody, at least privately, agrees are necessary," said Vin Weber, a Republican Party strategist and former congressman.
Nonetheless, with his budget, Mr. Obama was pivoting from the emphasis in his first two years on costly efforts to revive the economy. He said his plan would reduce the total projected deficits over the next decade by $1.1 trillion, or about 10 percent.
His budget, for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, would cut spending for an array of domestic programs, including community services and environmental protection, and reduce the Pentagon's previously proposed budget by $78 billion over five years. At the same time, it would make room for spending increases for education, infrastructure, clean energy, innovation, as well as research.
By contrast, President Bush's budget proposals for the fiscal years 2005 and 2006, with their own mix of spending priorities, were criticized in the Times  both for being "austere" and, conversely, for failing to reign in the "record-high deficit." Reporters Edmund Andrews and David Rosenbaum insisted of Bush's $2.57 trillion budget proposal for 2006:
By any measure, the new budget is austere. It calls for deep cuts next year in almost every category of domestic spending outside the mandatory entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, which are based on laws adopted in previous years.
And in her February 3, 2004  report on Bush's budget proposal for fiscal year 2005, Elisabeth Bumiller declared it dead on arrival and wondered if Bush could survive the "cuts to popular programs" (left unnamed) in his $2.4 trillion budget:
Mr. Bush's calculation is that voters will care far more about protecting the nation from another terrorist attack than about cuts to popular programs, or, for that matter, the record-high deficit....Like his State of the Union address, Mr. Bush's budget calls for no big new domestic programs and in fact forces him to cut so deeply that even his Republican allies in Congress called it politically impractical and said restorations were inevitable.Bumiller got that from a budget proposal that actually increased discretionary spending outside of the military and domestic security by 0.5 percent.
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