WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obamas $3.78 trillion budget Wednesday provided fresh, vivid evidence that Washington remains desperately divided over key spending and tax issues and that government appears poised to keep limping along without a broad budget agreement.
Unable to reach agreement to cut spending or raise taxes, that means the federal government is likely to be funded by yet another continuing resolution, or stopgap spending bill, extending the status quo of current spending and tax policies when the next fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
About all that will be clear in the coming weeks is that Washington is once again deadlocked. Three different visions of how government should work are now on the table, as Senate Democrats and House of Representatives Republicans approved their own very different versions last month.
Obama tried to offer some compromise Wednesday, most notably by proposing to slow the annual increases in Social Security benefits. But he convinced no one on Capitol Hill that a grand bargain is within reach to stop the nations $17.2 trillion debt from continuing to grow, let alone start to shrink. I dont think we should talk about a grand bargain, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said flatly.
The gaps are too wide. Obama and Democrats want higher taxes, Republicans refuse.
Obama and Republicans disagree sharply on the future of Medicare. Republicans want to allow seniors the choice of private coverage or Medicare starting in 2024. Democrats are opposed.
Obama proposed slowing the growth of Social Security benefits in his new budget. Democrats were not pleased.
Most critically, Republicans want the budget to eventually return to balance. Democrats see that as unrealistic anytime soon. Both Obama and Senate Democrats peg their lowest annual deficits over the next decade at around $400 billion.
All these are profound disagreements, unlikely to be resolved in a matter of months, perhaps even years. Some progress has been made, notably the 2011 deal to reduce anticipated deficits with less spending, and the New Years Day measure to raise an additional $600 billion.
Obama on Wednesday touted his new plan as an effort to inch toward the Republicans. Republicans werent buying it. It doesnt break new ground, Ryan said. Added House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio: We dont need to be raising taxes on the American people.
Democrats were lukewarm, largely because of the proposed change in the way Social Security benefits are increased to reflect higher cost of loving. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said he had concerns with aspects of this budget.
Few spoke on Capitol Hill about breakthroughs.
Every time I read something about John Boehner it sounds totally unreasonable, said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who heads the Senate subcommittee that writes legislation on health, education and labor-related spending. Boehner insists that Obama got $600 billion in new revenue in the January fiscal cliff agreement, so this is no time to seek more.
How can you deal with someone who takes that kind of position? Harkin asked.
Republicans also were not optimistic. Its a wide chasm, said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a longtime activist on budget issues.