In his final budget proposal, President Barack Obama is calling for a $10-a-barrel tax to discourage oil consumption, but this is just one example of a vision of government he likely will never be able to enact.
Even before the president’s budget proposals are rolled out Tuesday, Republicans who control Congress have pronounced the oil tax dead on arrival, a prognosis that applies not only to the rest of his 2017 budget plan, but to his legislative aspirations in general.
The president’s annual budgets usually arrive with a thud on Capitol Hill — dismissed by Republicans as too far afield from their fiscal priorities, and panned even by some Democrats as unworkable.
But this year, Obama’s expected $4-trillion blueprint may not even arrive in Congress: GOP leaders have refused to invite administration officials for testimony, an annual rite of budget season that until now had survived the contentious relations between the Obama White House and Capitol Hill.
In lieu of those hearings, White House officials are slowly rolling out the details of the budget proposal one piece at a time, in interviews and conference calls, despite the working assumption in Washington that the measures won’t take effect.
“Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future,” Obama said during his weekly Saturday address.
“That’s why the budget I will send to Congress this Tuesday will double funding for clean-energy research and development by 2020 … And while Republicans in Congress are still considering their position on climate change, many of them realize that clean energy is an incredible source of good-paying jobs for their constituents … I hope they support my plan to double that kind of investment.”
Aides to Obama are forthright about the act of theater, acknowledging that in the past they have put together budgets based on numbers they thought were reasonable and Republican ideas they thought might fly.
Those past budget proposals reflected “a genuine effort to compromise,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, but they “did not result in greater congressional action.” So now, he told reporters, lawmakers can “expect to see some pretty bold ideas.”
The oil tax qualifies as one of the bigger proposals, as it would translate into as much as an additional 25 cents on a gallon of gas.
Others are smaller, though important to particular constituencies. The budget would infuse millions to advance a “water innovation strategy” for cutting the price and energy costs of new water-supply technology.
Obama’s budgets in past years have been viewed by Republicans who control Congress as statements of liberal priorities, and they see this year’s offering in the same way, even before it is introduced.
“Nothing in the president’s prior budgets — none of which have ever balanced — has shown that the Obama administration has any real interest in actually solving our fiscal challenges,” said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the House Budget Committee, who added that rather than waste time receiving testimony on Obama’s budget, Republicans in Congress should continue their own work to build a budget.
Republicans, though, face their own internal problems in devising a budget that can pass the House and Senate.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., the architect of past GOP budgets that overhauled Medicare and cut other programs, must convince reluctant conservatives to approve higher spending levels agreed to in a compromise with Obama and Democrats last year.
Many Republicans voted against that deal, and Ryan relied on Democrats for passage. Cooperation from Democrats, though, seems unlikely now.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the chairman’s refusal to invite the White House’s Office of Management and Budget director to the Hill was “insulting” and showed “the corrosive radicalism that has gripped congressional Republicans.”