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Like Groundhog Day, There's A Routine To White House Budget Debut


It's Groundhog Day. It also happens to be the day President Obama released his budget proposal for 2016. We'll let you decide if the movie, "Groundhog Day," about a weatherman doomed to relive the same day over and over again, is a good analogy for the budget. NPR White House correspondent, Tamara Keith, has this story.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Budget day in Washington has a certain routine starting with the predawn pickup of copies of the budget documents.

It is now 6:20 in the morning, and I am headed into a Starbucks a few blocks away from the White House to get a copy of the president's budget.

Reporters line up, press passes around their necks, coffee in hand, as a Budget Office staffer hands out CDs holding the charts and line items. A couple of hours later, paper copies are delivered to Capitol Hill where they are photographed like a celebrity at the airport. And, shortly thereafter, the statements start coming in. House Speaker John Boehner says it may be Groundhog Day, but the American people can't afford a repeat of the same old top-down policies of the past. The headline on Illinois Republican Peter Roskam's statements says, second and goal and the president calls for a pass. And on it went, as if on cue.

STAN COLLENDER: If you'd woken up two years ago, three years ago, to the day the budget came out, you would have been saying exactly the same things.

KEITH: Maybe minus the Super Bowl reference. Stan Collender is executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGROUP and is something of a federal budget guru.

COLLENDER: The president proposes a budget that Congress is going to reject. Most Republicans will reject it out of hand. Democrats will applaud the president. Where have we heard this before? Well, every year for the last six years.

KEITH: Collender says presidential budgets are always a mix of accounting statement and political document, and this one leans more toward the political. Where, in the past, Obama's budgets nodded to reducing the deficit, this one is significantly more focused on things like investing in infrastructure, rolling back the sequester cuts and helping out the middle class with proposals like free community college. Another person who knows a lot about the budget process is Mitch Daniels. Today, he is the president of Purdue University, but from 2001 to 2003, he was President Bush's budget director.

MITCH DANIELS: I think the seriousness of any president's budget depends a lot on the context.

KEITH: Early in a presidency or with a Congress of the same party, big ideas in a presidential budget could become a reality, says Daniels.

DANIELS: That's not the case in this one. But, in fairness, late-stage presidencies often transition from serious to symbolic in the budgets they send out.

KEITH: One sign of the symbolism - the president's budget math assumes Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform and raises taxes on the wealthy - two things that seem mighty unlikely with the current Congress. But White House budget director Sean Donovan insisted on Morning Edition, this isn't just about making a statement.


SEAN DONOVAN: We won't get everything we want. That's what a negotiation is. But I think we will see real progress in a number of areas that are in the budget.

KEITH: And even if the details of the president's corporate tax overhaul or infrastructure spending or sequester rollback are nonstarters, those ideas, in theory, do at least have some bipartisan support which means as political as this document may be, it could be a starting point. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.