HELENA — President Barack Obama's budget proposals drew decidedly mixed reviews Monday from Montana's congressional delegation, as even his fellow Democrats said they had some fundamental differences on the president's spending plans.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he likes the emphasis on jobs, economic growth and attempts to reduce deficits over the long term — but that the budget should go much further in scaling back military spending and "nation-building" in Afghanistan.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he's disappointed that the president didn't present a stronger plan to cut the deficit over the long term.
And Rep. Denny Rehberg, the delegation's sole Republican, blasted Obama's proposal as a collection of "accounting tricks and budget gimmicks" that spends too much and includes tax increases on the wealthy and other revenue and regulatory proposals he said the president knows will not pass Congress.
"You simply cannot create jobs by raising taxes," said Rehberg, who is challenging Tester in the 2012 election.
Obama unveiled his budget proposals Sunday and Monday, the first step in a lengthy process to attempt to adopt a spending blueprint for the nation this year and into the future.
Some observers said Monday that Congress is unlikely to pass a budget before the November general election.
Highlights of the president's budget include big increases in highway and transportation spending, more money for education, $1 billion to encourage the manufacture of electric vehicles, less spending on the Pentagon, higher taxes on the wealthy and investment income — and a projected $1.3 trillion deficit next year.
Baucus said he supports the highway funding and the tax increases, which he says are necessary to avoid drastic cuts to programs critical for Montanans.
But Baucus said he can't support spending $88 billion a year on Afghanistan while farm programs are cut for American farmers.
"Montana farmers are more than willing to chip in their fair share, but this goes too far," he said. "It's time to ask Afghans to take responsibility for their own country, so we can focus on terrorist targets around the world and invest in nation-building here in America."
Tester said the budget properly protects programs that benefit students, senior citizens and veterans, but that it should have adopted a comprehensive approach to cutting the deficit, such as the framework endorsed by some on the president's own bipartisan debt commission in 2010.
Rehberg offered the most detailed criticism of the Obama budget, saying it claims savings for money that was going to be reduced anyway — such as war expenses in the Middle East — and then relies on tax revenues that the GOP won't pass.
"They take these so-called savings ... and use it to increase spending somewhere else," he said.
Rehberg also said the president's budget is packed with proposals that favor "special interests" and urban areas, such as the $1 billion for electric vehicles, subsidies for high-speed rail and education funding that favors urban school districts.
Regarding a proposal to boost spending for community colleges, Rehberg said he supports the colleges but wants to "take a long, hard look at how the president paid for this new spending."
House Republicans may roll out their own budget alternative this spring, Rehberg's office indicated. Rehberg chairs the budget subcommittee that oversees health, education and labor budget.