Obama unveils record $5.7 trillion election-tinged budget

Customers snap up copies of Obama's Fiscal Year 2017 budget as they go on sale in Washington, DC.
Customers snap up copies of Obama's Fiscal Year 2017 budget as they go on sale in Washington, DC. PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Barack Obama unveiled the last budget of his presidency on Tuesday, a record US$4.1 trillion (S$5.7 trillion) plan that is dead-on-arrival in Congress but could shape the 2016 White House race.

Legislatively, the future looks bleak for Obama's 2017 fiscal plan, which covers spending on everything from cybersecurity to the environment.

It includes big-ticket investments in America's creaking infrastructure - to the tune of US$320 billion over the next decade - and ramps up research into clean energy technologies and cancer.

But Republicans who control Congress have already vowed to draft their own plan, "rather than spend time on a proposal that," according to House Budget Committee chairman Tom Price, "will double down on the same failed policies."

Adding insult to White House injury, spending announcements that would have made waves in the first year of Obama's administration are likely to quickly dissolve into saturation coverage of the New Hampshire presidential primary, which also takes place on Tuesday.

Still, the budget provides Obama with one of his few remaining opportunities to fashion national and Democratic party priorities.

Obama said the budget was a statement of intent, saying it would invest in innovation and strengthen national security.

"The budget that we are releasing today reflects my priorities and the priorities that I believe will help advance security and prosperity in America for many years to come," he said.

It is chock-full of measures designed to wean the United States off fossil fuels, including a US$10-a-barrel levy on crude.

 
 

A "computer science for all" programmewould give schools US$4 billion to teach a "new basic skill" and help modernise workforce skills.

Looking farther afield, the proposal will include US$7.5 billion - a 50 per cent increase from the previous year - to fund the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

That includes US$1.8 billion to pay for over 45,000 more GPS-guided smart bombs.

The budget would also invest more than US$19 billion in cybersecurity, a 35 per cent jump designed, Obama said, to tackle the issue "in a more aggressive way."

"Cyber threats pose a danger not only to our national security, but also our financial security and the privacy of millions of Americans," Obama said.

An additional US$4.3 billion would be spent on "countering Russian aggression and support European allies."

While politics may have doomed this budget, the plan might have its biggest impact on the campaign trail, where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are fighting a tougher-than-expected battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Sanders' electrifying support in early voting states has exposed a battle for the soul of the party.

The self-styled democratic socialist's message has eclipsed Clinton's more moderate and, she claims, realistic message.

The pair virtually tied in Iowa and the last polls showed Sanders leading Clinton in New Hampshire by nearly double digits.

Obama is unlikely to withhold endorsement from either, but they will be cautious about getting on the wrong side of a potent campaigner who remains deeply popular among Democrats.

When Obama earlier this year suggested he could not vote or campaign for anyone who does not support gun control, Sanders was quick to define his record on the issue.

The budget also provides Obama an opportunity to draw sharp contrast with Republicans, as the November general election looms.

"Clearly, Republicans are not interested in hearing about a budget that invests in the future and grows the wages of hard-working Americans," charged House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Republicans appeared happy to draw their own contrasts.

"This isn't even a budget so much as it is a progressive manual for growing the federal government at the expense of hardworking Americans," said House Speaker Paul Ryan.