Obama’s Budget Handoff: $3.8 Trillion Grande

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Washington Monument stands behind cherry trees blossoming in Washington, D.C.

Updated 2:35 pm

The Office of Management and Budget hands out President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget in a Starbucks as the sun comes up.

It’s 6:35 am, and a dozen reporters are gathered in downtown Washington, waiting for an OMB staffer carrying CDs. He is five minutes behind schedule due to roadblocks around the White House. The budget files he’s releasing are two months late.

Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget proposal arrives at the Capitol after the House and Senate already have adopted non-binding budget resolutions so different in their goals that there’s almost no prospect for compromise, Bloomberg reports. Reporters held their headlines until the White House’s embargoed release after the president spoke from the Rose Garden at 11 am today. “Our economy is poised for progress as long as Washington doesn’t get in the way,” he said.

The president’s budget, officially due on Feb. 1, is usually the kick-off for  budget season in Washington. This year’s budget — delayed until cherry-blossom season after a series of manufactured fiscal crises on Capitol Hill — is a potential tie-breaker.

Because of congressional gridlock, “the president is pretty much stepping onto the same playing field that he would have if he had started on time,” Joseph Minarik, senior vice president of the Committee for Economic Development, said in an interview.

Republicans started early today bashing the proposal on the Senate floor and on Twitter:

“It sounds like the White House just tossed last year’s budget into the microwave,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.

Even Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who is running for the South Carolina 1st District  House seat against former Gov. Mark Sanford, rejected the plan:

The outlook appears grim, and budget experts aren’t sure whether Obama’s proposals are any more or less likely to be taken up by Congress now that it’s April. At 65 days late, Obama’s 2014 plan is the most over-due budget in modern history, a fact House Republicans have criticized frequently over the past few weeks.

“Many people believe that because he gets to go last, it provides the president the chance to give more, not less, leadership on this issue. I think that’s an open question,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and former economic adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008  presidential campaign, said in an interview. He added, “It has more to do with their willingness to take a leadership role on the deal.”

Congress will likely continue to wait for “the moment when the debt limit hits the fan,” said Minarik, who is a former policy director and economist for the House and OMB.

“Will the president proposing entitlement reductions shock the system?” he said. “There aren’t too many indications at this point that would lead you to think so.”

The reporters at Starbucks had at least one reason to be glad for the budget’s two-month delay: If they had received the budget in February, it wouldn’t have been 63 degrees in Washington for their walks back to their newsrooms, the cherries in full bloom.

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