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Obama Seeks Congressional Support for $3.55 Trillion Budget

President Barack Obama went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, seeking congressional support for his $3.55 trillion budget. The president's effort came as Democratic-controlled House and Senate committees began considering budget blueprints that might trim the president's spending plans, and as Republicans continued to criticize the size of the president's budget.

Leaving the meeting with Senate Democrats, the president said only that it had "gone great".

That left it to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad to give reporters some details. Senator Reid defended the spending plan.

"This budget will protect President Obama's priorities: education, energy, health care, middle class tax relief, and cut the deficit in half," he said.

Senator Conrad said the budget resolution moving through Congress preserves President Obama's key priorities based on a new estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

He also sought to clarify what he called misunderstandings amid reports the Senate version of the spending plan leaves out some key Obama priorities.

Rather than excluding specific items, Conrad said, congressional committees will have wide discretion on spending as long as it is offset by cuts elsewhere.

"We have not pre-judged a legislative outcome. We have made it possible for the committee of jurisdiction to do what the president is asking for on climate change, to do what he is asking for on energy and education, but all of them would have to be offset," he said.

Congressional budget plans would try to reduce the projected deficit, which has now ballooned to about $2.3 trillion more during the next 10 years than the White House had originally projected.

The Senate proposal foresees a reduction from $1.7 trillion this year to $508 billion by 2014 - a reduction from 12 percent of gross domestic product to just under three percent. A House version projects a $598 billion deficit after five years.

Democrat John Spratt, Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget, noted that President Obama inherited a more than a trillion dollar deficit from former President George Bush.

The emerging budget resolution, Spratt said, envisions a multi-year effort to reduce the deficit.

"The budget resolution before you will not turn this big battleship all the way around in one year's time. We will have to revisit this problem multiple times over the next five years, and each time make mid-course corrections in the hope of finally erasing these deficits we are incurring today and putting the economy itself on a sound footing," he said.

Republicans continued to hammer President Obama's original spending proposals and the blueprints put forward by Democrats in House and Senate.

Representative Paul Ryan asserted that Democrats' proposals still envision a sharp expansion of government spending.

"This really is the president's budget - the high cost, big government agenda just in camouflage. It can be described as different from the president's budget only if you believe the following: that the five-year budget window as opposed to the president's 10-year plan was not employed to hide the explosion of costs after 2014 for the president's ambitious big government agenda," said Ryan.

Representative Marcy Kaptur was among the Democrats who responded by pointing to deficit growth during the Bush administration.

"Our job is to make wise decisions in troubling economic times. We are now a nation of debtors borrowing from every country in the world, while our financial system has taken us for a ride. On whose watch did this happen? President Bush," she noted.

In his news conference on Tuesday night, President Obama acknowledged concerns about deficits. But he asserted that a break with past policies, through investments in health care, education and renewable energy, is crucial to economic recovery.

Budget resolutions, which are non-binding, are the framework for later appropriations and other spending decisions by Congress, and are voted on after negotiations to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.