President Barack Obama on Monday projected the budget deficit would peak at a fresh record in 2010 before easing as he pushes for fiscal responsibility while battling double-digit unemployment.
Dubbed an old-style liberal tax-and-spender by his Republican opponents, Obama is under pressure to convince investors and big creditors like China that he has a credible plan to control the country's deficit and debt over time.
In the long term, we cannot have sustainable and durable economic growth without getting our fiscal house in order, Obama said in a statement with the budget's formal release.
His budget for the fiscal year to September 30, 2011, a blueprint that is subject to change by the U.S. Congress, forecast a deficit of $1.56 trillion in 2010, equal to 10.6 percent of the economy measured by gross domestic product (GDP).
The rise was partly due to spending associated with a package of emergency stimulus measures Obama signed last year as the United States grappled with recession.
While maintaining policies this year aimed at protecting a still fragile economic recovery, with $100 billion earmarked for measures to create jobs, Obama plans to save money from 2011 by curbing 120 projects, including a powerfully symbolic space mission to return to the moon, but will invest more in education and research.
Market reaction was muted and analysts surveyed the numbers with a healthy dose of skepticism.
I don't think there is anything out there that is job creating and I don't have much confidence that some of the spending cuts will actually happen, said Peter Boockvar, an equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York.
Polls show voters are worried by the weak condition of U.S. finances, and Obama plans to create a bipartisan fiscal commission to figure out options on taxes and spending.
I don't think anybody in the country thinks we have a problem because we tax too little. I think the problem is we spend too much, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
The increase in the 2010 deficit compared with a $1.41 trillion shortfall in 2009 that amounted to 9.9 percent of
But this funding gap was forecast to dip to $1.27 trillion in 2011 -- 8.3 percent of GDP and roughly a third of total government spending that year forecast at $3.8 trillion.
However, the deficit was projected to fall to roughly half that as a share of the economy in the final year of Obama's term in 2012, meeting a key pledge.
Much of the improvement in the fiscal picture is driven by underlying forecasts for solid growth yielding higher tax revenue. The economy forecast to expand by 2.7 percent in 2010, 3.8 percent in 2011 and above 4 percent for the next 3 years.
The budget also assumes unemployment will remain high, edging to 8.2 percent in 2012 from 10 percent this year, while inflation stays mild and interest rates only rise slightly.
NO CAP-AND-TRADE REVENUE SEEN
The budget incorporates healthcare legislation currently before lawmakers. But an administration official told Reuters $646 billion in projected revenue from a controversial cap-and-trade climate change bill had been dropped from the budget, implying the White House is doubtful the measures will pass Congress.
U.S. growth jumped by 5.7 percent at an annual pace in the fourth quarter, but this has yet to translate into more hiring, and unemployment of 10 percent is near a 26-year high.
Discontent over the jobless rate translated into political defeat for Obama's Democrats in an election last month for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, foreshadowing potentially big losses for the party in congressional elections in November.
To boost jobs, Obama is setting aside $100 billion in 2010 in tax credits aimed at small businesses as well as investments in clean energy and infrastructure, before starting to tighten the country's fiscal belt the following year.
We're trying to kind of accomplish a soft landing in terms of our fiscal trajectory to avoid the risk of 1937 where we do excessive deficit reduction too quickly, White House budget chief Peter Orszag told reporters.
Economists say a premature withdrawal of policies aimed at boosting growth helped prolong the Great Depression in the 1930s and Obama is determined to avoid repeating that mistake. But he must also ensure that investors don't lose confidence in the U.S. ability to put its fiscal house in order.
As a result, the budget outlines measures to cut over $1 trillion from the deficit over the next decade, and almost twice this amount once the declining cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taken into account, Orszag said.
Obama previewed most of these steps in an annual address last week, including letting tax cuts lapse for rich Americans, a fee on big banks to recoup losses on a taxpayer bailout during the 2008 financial crisis, and a three-year freeze on some domestic spending outside national security.
The White House says that allowing taxes to rise on families making above $250,000 a year will raise an estimated $678 billion over 10 years; the bank fee is projected to recoup $90 billion in that time; while the domestic spending freeze will trim $250 billion from the deficit.
Obama expects to save $20 billion in 2011 from the spending clampdown by ending or paring back 120 programs, including the NASA space agency's project to return to the moon. But these proposals need congressional backing that may be hard to win.
Even if all of these measures are adopted, the deficit will remain above the goal of 3 percent of GDP that Obama seeks, and he plans to create a bipartisan fiscal commission to review spending cuts and tax increases to achieve this target.
But Republicans are reluctant to serve on the panel, fearing this gives Obama cover to raise taxes, while some members of his own Democratic party oppose cuts in spending.
The fiscal commission will be charged with balancing the budget excluding interest payments on the debt by 2015, or curbing it to 3 percent of GDP when these costs are included.
Obama's emphasis on fiscal restraint could appeal to politically independent voters, who moved away from Democrats in the Massachusetts race. The president, whose own approval ratings have declined to about 50 percent, blames the surge in red ink on his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
Obama argues the deficit was projected to top $1 trillion when he took office in January 2009 amid two wars and a recession that hit government revenues and led to an increase in spending for programs such as unemployment benefits.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, editing by Vicki Allen and Frances Kerry)