Obama seeks more spending on roads, education

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama unveiled a nearly $4 trillion budget proposal on Monday that would boost spending on infrastructure, medical research and education — and that stoked an ongoing fight with congressional Republicans over how to pay for those priorities.

With an eye toward the improving economy and a renewed push on addressing income inequality, Obama proposed lifting spending caps popular with Republicans while asking wealthy Americans to help pay for programs he said would benefit the middle class.


For Maryland, the budget includes $100 million for Baltimore's proposed Red Line — reiterating the administration's commitment to that project — and $26.5 million for a Chesapeake Bay dredging project critical for preparing the port of Baltimore for the larger ships that will soon traverse the Panama Canal.

The James Webb Space Telescope, which is being managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, would receive $620 million, and the U.S. Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay would secure a significant increase to pay for servicing 30-year-old ice-breaking tug boats and buoy tenders.


Republicans, in control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in Obama's presidency, dismissed the budget as political theater. Though the plan won't advance as written, it signals administration priorities, and it will influence negotiations over spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

"We can afford to make these investments while remaining fiscally responsible," Obama said at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington. "We can't afford not to."

Republican leaders zeroed in on tax hikes, particularly proposals to increase the amount paid on inheritances and to bump the top capital gains rate from 23.8 percent to 28 percent. The budget would also expand tax credits that help middle-class families, including breaks for child care and education.

"It contains no solutions to address the drivers of our debt, and no plan to fix our entire tax code to help foster growth," House Speaker John Boehner said, echoing criticism from many GOP lawmakers. "Worse yet, President Obama would impose new taxes and more spending without a responsible plan to honestly address the big challenges facing our country."

Among the more ambitious ideas is a six-year, $478 billion program to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure — an Obama priority since his first campaign for president. The administration would raise that money through a one-time 14 percent tax on overseas corporate holdings. The White House anticipates the lower rate would entice companies to repatriate money currently parked overseas.

The idea is similar to one proposed by Democratic Rep. John Delaney of Montgomery County that has bipartisan support.

Obama's budget sets aside $100 million for the proposed Red Line and another $100 million for the Purple Line in Maryland's Washington suburbs — the same commitment the administration made last year. The Red Line, a nearly $3 billion light rail project that would connect Woodlawn in Baltimore County to East Baltimore, has been a priority for Maryland Democrats. New Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has not indicated whether his administration will support the effort.

The Obama administration proposes $26.5 million to build up Poplar Island with materials dredged from the Chesapeake Bay, an increase of roughly $11 million. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and other members of the state's congressional delegation have pressed for the increased dredging to help the port of Baltimore prepare for the deeper-draft and wider ships that will travel through an expanded Panama Canal.


"The president's budget proposes bold investments in physical infrastructure and our human infrastructure, while continuing to protect our national and homeland security," Mikulski, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

Though the Webb telescope would see reduced funding, the cut had been anticipated by NASA, and so the $620 million will keep the project on schedule for a 2018 launch. The Coast Guard yard, meanwhile, would begin the next phase of a program intended to extend the life of the agency's fleet of 140-foot ice-breaking tugs and 225-foot oceangoing buoy tenders.

The ice-breakers were put into service in 1978.

The budget would also have an impact on the state by ending strict spending caps known as sequestration — the deficit-cutting initiative that economists say has slowed economic growth in states that receive a high share of federal spending. The administration calls for spending $561 billion in defense, $38 billion over sequestration levels, and $530 billion in domestic programs.

And the proposal also includes a 1.3 percent pay raise for federal employees, who make up about 10 percent of Maryland's workforce.

Federal employee unions said that increase was little more than a symbolic gesture.


"Let's be real, a 1.3 percent pay raise will be eaten up by higher costs for groceries, health care and other essentials," said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The budget calls for a $3 million reduction in the Environmental Protection Agency program dedicated to Chesapeake Bay cleanup. If approved, that effort would be funded at $70 million in the next fiscal year.

At a time when Republicans on Capitol Hill are proposing changes to how medical research grants are awarded, the administration called for a 4.3 percent increase in the Department of Health and Human Services budget, including a 3.3 percent increase for the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health.

The president's budget anticipates a $474 billion deficit in 2016, which would equal 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product.

In presenting the budget at the Department of Homeland Security, Obama referred to what is expected to be the first of many clashes with Congress this year over spending: Lawmakers have until the end of this month to pass a bill to fund Homeland Security, the only department left out of a spending agreement that will keep the rest of the government running through September.

Republicans are threatening to trim the department's current-year funding over objections to Obama's recent moves to delay deportation for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.


"The men and women of America's homeland security apparatus do important work to protect us, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics with that," the president said. "We need to fund the department, pure and simple."