WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama sent a $4 trillion spending proposal to Congress that calls for higher taxes on the wealthy in 2016, an end to mandated spending cuts, and more money to help the country's financially-strapped middle class.
The Democratic president acknowledged Monday many of his proposals will face stiff opposition from Republican's in Congress. But he said the country has "some fundamental choices to make about the kind of country we want to be.
"Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well," he asked a group of Homeland Security government workers, "or are we going to build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?"
With the U.S. economy, the world's largest, steadily improving, Obama is calling for a one-time 14 percent tax on overseas corporate profits.
The tax would help pay for nearly $500 billion in improvements to the nation's highways, deteriorating bridges and other key infrastructure, while the bigger bills for affluent taxpayers would fund $300 billion for low- and middle-income tax credits.
First, some good news: the federal deficit has fallen by more than 50 percent in recent years.
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America’s improved finances allow for a renewed focus on domestic needs that have gone unmet in recent years, Obama said.
"First, middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change," he said. "That means helping folks afford child care, college, health care, a home, retirement, and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year."
The president’s budget is expected to cancel automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that have impacted everything from U.S. military preparedness to the response to health crises like Ebola.
But the fiscal outlook is not all rosy.
Any deficit, no matter how small, causes the accumulated $18 trillion national debt to rise further, a fact pointed out by Republican lawmakers, who say Obama’s budget is "dead on arrival."
Republican Senator John Cornyn is among those troubled with the country’s rising debt.
"I am concerned that the budget will be loaded with more taxes, more spending, and more debt. And that certainly is not a sustainable path forward for the country. We are still spending money we do not have," Cornyn said.
Congressional committees will craft spending proposals that reflect Republican priorities: constraining domestic spending while providing tax incentives to further spur economic activity.
But their professed concern about fiscal imbalances ignores recent history, when deficits and debt exploded under Republican rule, according to Independent Senator Bernie Sanders.
“I am delighted that some of my Republican friends have expressed great concern about our deficit and our national debt. I would ask them where they were several years ago when we went to war in Iraq and forgot to pay for that war,” Sanders said.
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse: to pass laws on taxes and spending.
But the president can sign or veto budget bills, meaning that an agreement between the two branches of government will have to be hammered out if the U.S. government is to remain open beyond September, when the current budget expires.