WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Thursday proposed to wring $17 billion in savings from the fiscal 2010 budget as he sought to allay worries about soaring deficits and build support for a hefty domestic agenda.
Unveiling the detailed version of a budget blueprint he outlined in February, Obama offered a slim list of savings he will seek in programs from weapons systems to education to the cleanup of abandoned mines.
We can no longer afford to spend as if deficits don't matter and waste is not our problem, Obama told reporters. We can no longer afford to leave the hard choices for the next budget, the next administration or the next generation.
The proposals to trim 121 programs identified by the White House as wasteful or unnecessary amounted to only a half of 1 percent of the $3.55 trillion budget that Obama has submitted for the fiscal year that begins in October.
Of the $17 billion in budget savings the White House identified, about half were in the defense budget.
The 2010 budget aims to overhaul the healthcare system to provide coverage to the uninsured and bolster education programs. Obama also wants to help fight climate change by capping emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from big industries and allowing them to trade rights to pollute. Such systems are commonly called cap and trade.
Both critics and supporters of Obama consider the plan ambitious. Some proposals such as the climate initiative face a tough sell in the U.S. Congress.
Amid spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bailouts for the banking and auto industries, the White House has forecast that the budget deficit will hit $1.75 trillion in the current 2009 fiscal year. The administration expects the deficit to drop to a still-huge $1.17 trillion in 2010.
White House budget director Peter Orszag said there would be modest changes to those figures next Monday in a further set of budget documents, which would take account of capital gains tax receipts and other recent data.
But key elements were not changing, he said, including the climate initiatives and a $250 billion placeholder for financial rescue that Obama hopes not to use.
Earlier this year, Obama won passage in the Democratic-led Congress for a $787 billion economic stimulus package of public works projects and tax cuts aimed at countering the recession.
Republicans say Obama's budget marked a move toward big government and would burden the economy with high deficits.
Obama emphasizes he inherited a deficit of more than $1 trillion from former President George W. Bush, a Republican. The recession that began during Bush's presidency resulted in lower government tax receipts, and Obama said it required action in the form of the stimulus package and the bailouts.
Some Democrats also have expressed wariness about the deficit outlook, though Congress already has passed a $3.4 trillion budget blueprint that will guide tax policy and government spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
That plan embraces many of Obama's top priorities, but the difficulty will be in hammering out detailed legislation.
U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the Democratic budget spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much while Obama's cuts would barely dent the debt.
Many of the budget's defense cuts were announced last month by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who set a goal of shifting billions of dollars of spending away from futuristic weapons toward systems geared for wars like today's in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, the budget would terminate a new long-range bomber that the military had planned to begin fielding in 2018 to boost the existing Cold War-era bomber fleet.
Overall, Obama is seeking $534 billion for the Defense Department's core budget in fiscal 2010, an increase of 4 percent from the $513 billion provided by Congress in 2009. In addition, Obama has requested $130 billion in funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the domestic side of the ledger, an early childhood education program known as Even Start and a long-range radio navigation system that has been made obsolete by GPS technology were on the chopping block.
Other cuts included halting payments to states for abandoned mines that already have been cleaned up and cutting a Department of Education attache position in Paris.
Congress already has rejected some of Obama's proposed savings, such as reining in subsidies for wealthy farmers.
Republicans in the House of Representatives said they would offer their own set of budget cuts.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a Democrat known as a fiscal hawk, praised the line-by-line review of the annual budget. But he said he wanted government to apply this same focus and commitment on addressing long-term fiscal challenges such as dealing with costly entitlement programs.
The budget proposed terminating the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage waste site and instead spending $197 million to phase out the project and seek alternatives for waste disposal.