WASHINGTON — Pledging "a new era of responsibility," President Barack Obama unveiled a multi-trillion-dollar spending plan Thursday that would boost taxes on the wealthy, curtail Medicare, lay the groundwork for universal health care and leave a string of deficits dwarfing any in the nation's history.
In addition to sending Congress his $3.55 trillion budget plan for 2010, Obama proposed more immediate changes that would push spending to $3.94 trillion in the current year. That would result in a record deficit Obama projects will hit $1.75 trillion, reflecting the massive spending being undertaken to battle a severe recession and the worst financial crisis in seven decades.
The new deficit total is roughly equivalent to $12,000 for every taxpayer in the United States, or approximately $6,000 for every man, woman and child in America.
The new budget also plans for additional financial bailouts of up to $750 billion, a senior administration official told NBC News. But the White House believes that as the economy improves it will get roughly $500 billion back, so the expected cost to taxpayers is $250 billion.
In his budget message, Obama sought to draw a clear distinction with the Bush administration, saying "the time has come to usher in a new era — a new era of responsibility" both in government and the private sector.
GOP assails plan
But Republicans contended Obama was avoiding hard choices in favor of exploding the deficit and raising taxes.
"This budget plan is once again a missed opportunity for American taxpayers -- it raises taxes on all Americans, implements massive new spending and fails to make any tough choices to control the deficit," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the top Budget Committee Republican who was nominated by Obama to join his Cabinet as commerce secretary but then withdrew.
The administration called the request for additional bailout resources a "placeholder" in advance of a determination by the Treasury Department of what will actually be needed.
The spending blueprint Obama sent Congress was a 134-page outline with further details to come in mid to late April, when the new administration sends up the massive budget books that will flesh out the plan.
The plan balances efforts to fulfill Obama's campaign pledges to deliver tax cuts to the middle class, expand health care coverage and combat the economic crisis with an effort to keep a soaring deficit from becoming a permanent drag on the economy. However, Republicans assailed the budget for the tax increases, and some Democrats worried that Obama was not doing enough to get the deficit under control.
"I would give him good marks as a beginning, but we have to do a lot more to take on this long-term debt buildup," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
"Everyone agrees that all Americans deserve access to affordable health care, but is increasing taxes during an economic recession, especially on small businesses, the right way to accomplish that goal?" asked House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The $634 billion down payment on expanding health care coverage would come from a $318 billion increase over 10 years in taxes on the wealthy, defined as couples making more than $250,000 per year and individuals making more than $200,000. The other half of the money for expanding health care — $316 billion — would come from curtailing payments to hospitals and insurance companies under Medicare and drug payments under Medicaid.
Record deficit for this year
To meet his pledge of tax cuts for the middle class, the president wants to make permanent the $400 annual tax cut due to start showing up in workers' paychecks in April as part of the stimulus package just passed by Congress.
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Obama's budget also extends the middle class tax cuts passed by the Bush administration in 2001 and 2003. Those cuts were due to expire at the end of 2010. If Congress approves Obama's recommendations, the Bush tax cuts would expire only for couples making more than $250,000 per year.
The cost of the stimulus bill and the increased bailout support would push the deficit for this year to $1.75 trillion, nearly four times last year's record $455 billion and a percentage of the economy — just over 12 percent — not seen since World War II. The deficit would remain near $1 trillion over the next two years before dropping to $581 billion in 2012 and $533 billion in 2013, the year that Obama has pledged to cut the deficit he inherited in half.
However, to meet that goal, the administration's budget depends on optimistic projections that the economy, currently in the longest recession in a quarter-century, will come roaring back with economic growth of 3.2 percent next year and 4 percent-plus rates in the following three years, significantly higher than private economists are forecasting.
Christina Romer, head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, defended the administration forecast, telling reporters at a briefing that the private forecasters may not be taking into account all of the efforts the government is employing to jump-start the economy.
She said in past downturns, the more severe the recession, the stronger the recovery from the slump.
Obama's budget projects $2 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade — split between tax hikes on wealthier Americans and trimming a variety of government programs ranging from subsidies paid to wealthy farmers to eliminating ineffective government programs. However, previous presidents have also sought to target wasteful government spending only to find the programs targeted had powerful supporters in Congress.
Obama's blueprint awards domestic agencies budget increases, on average, of 7 percent in 2010 over 2009 levels. The Pentagon would get a 4 percent boost, to $534 billion next year, but would then get increases of 2 percent or less over the next several years.
Video: Todd on Obama’s budget proposal
Reserve fund for health care
Obama's plan proposes to build up a $634 billion reserve fund he would use to expand health care coverage to some of the 48 million currently uninsured Americans currently. The fund would represent a little more than half the money projected to be needed to extend health insurance to all Americans.
Reserve fund for health care
Obama also asked for $205 billion to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2010, and wants to budget the costs of operations there at $50 billion annually over the next several years.
The plan also contains a contentious proposal to raise hundreds of billions of dollars by auctioning off permits to exceed carbon emissions caps, which Obama wants to impose on users of fossil fuels to address global warming.
The Medicare plan is sure to incite battles with hospitals, health insurance companies and drug manufacturers.
Some of the Medicare savings would come from scaling back payments to private insurance plans that serve older Americans, which many analysts believe to be inflated. Other proposals include charging upper-income beneficiaries a higher premium for Medicare's prescription drug coverage.
To raise the other half of the money for expanding health coverage, Obama wants to reduce the rate by which wealthier people can cut their taxes through deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, local taxes and other expenses to 28 cents on the dollar, rather than the 35 cents they can claim now. Even more money would be raised if the top rate reverts to 39.6 percent, as Obama wants.
The $1.75 trillion deficit projected for this year would represent 12.3 percent of the gross domestic product, double the previous post-war record of 6 percent in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was president, and the highest level since the deficit totaled 21.5 percent of GDP in 1945, at the end of World War II.
NBC’s Chuck Todd and Ken Strickland and The Associated Press contributed to this story.