BY RICHARD COWAN
WASHINGTON – Barack Obama is preparing for one of the toughest fights of his young presidency as Congress begins work on a budget that may trim his spending plans but back his healthcare, energy and education proposals.
Obama will meet fellow Democrats in the Senate on Wednesday to try to shore up support for a budget blueprint that likely would increase the deficit more than initially estimated by the White House — it was forecast at $1.4 trillion for next year.
The House Budget Committee will begin a marathon session on Wednesday to write its version of the budget plan, followed a day later by the Senate Budget Committee’s unveiling of its budget plan for fiscal 2010 and the four subsequent years.
Republicans say Obama’s budget plan expands government and raises taxes on the rich and small businesses at a time when the country is mired in a deep recession. Obama, for his part, is trying to keep fiscally-conservative Democrats on board.
Democrats, who control Congress, are looking for ways to shave some of the spending requests in a bid to persuade enough fiscally-moderate members of their party to support a $3.55 trillion budget next year.
“I’m hopeful we can have a majority of the House and Senate support” a budget plan, said a cautious-sounding House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Democrats, said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, want to “put the middle class first and bring the country out of the recession.”
To do that, Murray told reporters, Congress must invest more in education, healthcare and alternative energy to create jobs, while shoring up domestic programs that she said were largely ignored in the eight years of the Bush administration.
“Now is not the time to sit back and criticize,” Murray said in a open warning to Republicans.
But criticize is exactly what Republicans promise to do over the next two weeks as the House of Representatives and Senate debate and try to pass a non-binding budget resolution that will set national priorities for the next five years.
The Obama budget “changes the course of our nation in a fundamental way,” said Senator Judd Gregg, the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
Gregg said he and his fellow Republicans will offer a series of amendments that, taken together, would result in much lower annual budget deficits and a smaller increase in a skyrocketing federal debt that is expensive to finance.
Republicans would like bigger increases in military spending, a freeze on non-defense domestic programs and tax cuts, including the estate tax. Like some Democrats, Gregg also noted the need to control spending on the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid entitlement programs.
See Related: BUDGTET CRISIS
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