The mother of all budgets

The Obama administration's spending blueprint represents the most ambitious government agenda in at least a generation. Buckle your seatbelts -- Washington is about to go nuts.

Published February 26, 2009 5:08PM (EST)

Any progressive who, after reviewing the White House's proposed budget, still thinks that President Barack Obama is aiming too low or hewing too close to the middle needs to seriously consider some aggressive psychotherapy. We haven't witnessed as ambitious a forward-looking agenda in a generation.

Republicans will call it big-spending. They will be correct. The $3.6 trillion budget includes a $1.75 trillion deficit for 2009 -- representing a whopping 12.3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. As the Wall Street Journal notes, that is "a level not seen since 1942 as the U.S. plunged into World War II."

Republicans will call it class warfare. They will be correct. This budget will tax the rich and big business for the benefit of the rest of the population. Hedge fund managers will get hit hard, and U.S. based multinationals will lose tax breaks on overseas earnings. It is a profound reversal of the last 30 years of government policy. But Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. If you cut taxes on the rich and then the rich drive the economy into a ditch, your position of moral superiority becomes shaky.

The new budget includes a cap-and-trade program, significant health-care reform, big boosts for education, another cool $250 billion in reserve for more banking system stabilization, and a one-billion-a-year high-speed-rail grant program. Just for starters.

The size, goals, and funding strategies for the new budget ensure a political battle of monstrous proportions. And in retrospect, it clarifies the Obama administration's strategy on the stimulus package. Suppose the administration had pushed for a much bigger stimulus package, along the lines of what some progressives were arguing for. Many progressives actively wanted to provoke a Republican filibuster, as a show of strength and an opportunity to shame the GOP publicly as obstructionists. But why provoke that kind of fight in your first weeks of office, if what you've got in your back pocket is a budget proposal bigger, more expensive, and more fundamentally transformative of the United States' economy than anything proposed by a Democrat or Republican since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society?

The White House was saving its bullets for the real fight. And it is on.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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