Obama’s budget: More politics than policy, it still has some pluses

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As a plan for governing, the federal budget for fiscal 2015 that President Barack Obama proposed on Tuesday appears dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. Republican leaders in Congress have rejected it as a basis for negotiation.

But as a political document, the proposal summarizes the president’s immediate economic agenda and distinguishes it from GOP priorities. That’s a useful exercise in a congressional election year.

Although Mr. Obama’s plan does far too little to address long-term issues such as taxes, entitlements and debt, it offers short-term initiatives that add up to sound policy.

His proposal to expand the earned income tax credit would promote work and reduce income inequality. Even President Ronald Reagan extolled the value of the EITC. If GOP lawmakers reject Mr. Obama’s proposed expansion because of how he would pay for it — eliminating tax breaks for hedge-fund managers and some wealthy business owners — voters are likely to find that resistance eye-opening.

The budget restates other valuable White House initiatives: enacting immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, restoring benefits for long-term unemployed workers, expanding public preschool education, creating manufacturing hubs and investing in repair of roads and bridges.

The funding mechanisms the president proposes for these programs — higher tobacco taxes, lower subsidies for the richest farmers and agribusinesses, and curbs on tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans — are appropriate. Again, they show a clear difference between the parties.

Other parts of the plan are less promising. Mr. Obama abandoned his earlier proposal to limit the growth of Social Security benefit increases because of resistance from his own party and Republican indifference. Nor does he offer big new ideas for curbing increases in health care costs beyond those in the Affordable Care Act.

The budget also includes bad news for Great Lakes states — a cut in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program to curb toxic pollution, combat invasive species and restore fish and wildlife habitats in Lake Erie and the other lakes.

The president’s plan is not all it could be, but it does provide a blueprint for growth and competitiveness, job creation and opportunity. Instead of rejecting it, Republican lawmakers should offer a plan they think Americans will prefer.

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