A budget gamble

The Baltimore Sun

President Barack Obama is expecting a breathtaking $1.75 trillion federal budget deficit for the coming fiscal year and making an even more amazing promise - to cut the annual shortfall in half by the end of his first term. Closing that deal will require all of the president's persuasive skills and a large measure of luck.

It's a monumental task, and Mr. Obama is hoping for the current deep recession to end and brisk economic growth - twice the rate of the Bush years - to resume next year. An optimistic view, to be sure. What he's relying on to carry out his plan are increases in the tax burden of American families earning more than $250,000 a year, billions more from cuts in subsidies to affluent farmers and revenue from a controversial cap-and-trade system that would force companies to buy allowances to exceed pollution limits. Add to that strategies aimed at limiting government waste and pork barrel spending.

Mr. Obama's budget represents a radical shift from the recent past. It's more honest and ambitious in its goals and more focused, directing funding to invest in new technologies and strategies to reshape America's economy, repair a frayed social safety net and buttress the harried middle class with an array of tax breaks. It promises expanded availability of health care, improved educational opportunities and increased energy efficiency.

Mr. Obama must know that many congressional Democrats, a solid phalanx of Republicans and legions of lobbyists and corporate advocates are preparing to challenge the optimistic assumptions, economizing and revenue-raising proposals outlined in his proposed budget.

The president has shown the rhetorical force and mastery of his agenda to persuade a solid majority of voters to take his side in a fight with Washington defenders of the status quo. Beyond his persuasive skills, next year's spending plan, $1.75 trillion higher than revenues, could be decisive in helping Mr. Obama keep his promise to trim the deficit. It represents a large shot in the arm to the nation's lagging economy - equalling 12.3 percent of the nation's annual economic output, the largest percentage since the end of World War II - and could help the economy come roaring back, producing higher tax revenues.

The nation has good reason to hope that the economy will follow Mr. Obama's optimistic forecast.

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