(CNSNews.com) – While calling for a modest spending freeze and the creation of a bipartisan task force to examine government spending, President Obama also announced a number of new spending proposals in his first State of the Union address.
Republicans questioned the president’s commitment to fiscal responsibility after his first year in office.
“This administration and this Democrat Congress have presided over a spending binge. And now the president wants the American people to believe that he’s going to put this government on the wagon,” House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) told CNSNews.com Wednesday. “Hope springs eternal, but the American people want deeds, not words.”
It is up to Republicans to rise to the president’s challenge of reducing the federal deficit in a bipartisan way, said White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod.
“The biggest run-up in spending was seen in the last administration, with two wars, tax cuts and a prescription drug plan that wasn’t paid for,” Axelrod told CNSNews.com. “In a battle of who is credible, the president has acknowledged the need to spend money because he not only inherited a fiscal crisis, but a financial one.”
In his speech, Obama said the nation must get its fiscal house in order just as American families must do: “Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t,” Obama said.
He cited the rising cost of entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and said he would issue an executive order creating a bipartisan fiscal commission to “provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.”
President Obama also called for a three-year freeze on non-defense discretionary spending.
“I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting,” Obama said. “I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger. (The line was greeted with some laughter.)
“But understand -- if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes,” Obama said.
The freeze – which is projected to save $250 billion over 10 years -- would make only a marginal dent in the federal deficit, which was $1.4 trillion in 2009 and will be an estimated $1 trillion per year for the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The national debt, meanwhile, is $12.3 trillion.
President George W. Bush’s final budget for fiscal year 2009 included $589 billion in discretionary spending. Obama’s first budget proposal for fiscal year 2010 hiked non-defense discretionary spending by 19.5 percent to $704 billion.
Still, the president said, “Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let’s try common sense.”
Obama also expressed support for tax credits for small businesses to spur job creation. However, he also called for a new stimulus or “jobs bill,” urged more spending on infrastructure, aid for college students, more financial assistance for people with high mortgage rates and said he was sticking with his goal of overhauling the health care system.
“The House has passed a jobs bill,” Obama said. “As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.”
The record of Obama’s first year in office has firmed established his liberal credentials, some Republicans say.
“I think the first year is always the most revealing year of what a president stands for. I think he showed us who he was,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, told CNSNews.com.
“He was the ideologue we were all kind of worried he was. I think he’ll move to the center rhetorically, but probably not substantively. He’ll try to save his majority so that he can go back to doing what he was doing before which was moving government very left of center.”