Obama in arm-twisting visit to Congress - prelude to budget battle

Obama in arm-twisting visit to Congress - prelude to budget battle Washington  - US President Barack Obama headed to Congress Wednesday for a meeting with his fellow Democratic Party lawmakers, some of whom have been skeptical of the administration's massive spending plans to help end the country's recession.

His visit came as the budget committees of both chambers in Congress began debating Obama's 2010 budget proposals - the first step in what is likely to be a prolonged battle over the president's spending priorities.

Corralled by reporters in the US Capitol building, Obama said only that he had a "great" meeting with the key Democrats responsible for shepherding his 2010 budget through the legislative branch.

Among those present for the meeting was Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget Committee and has voiced concerns that Obama's proposals will sharply increase the federal deficit.

Congress in January approved a record 787-billion-dollar economic stimulus package, and Obama has been pushing other countries - especially European governments - to follow suit. Just how much governments should be spending to end a global recession is likely to be a key sticking point Tuesday at a Group of 20 summit of world leaders.

Obama's 3.6-trillion-dollar budget for 2010, which includes large increases in renewable energy, health care and education spending, has been trimmed nearly 200 billion dollars by Democratic legislators and roundly criticized as irresponsible by opposition Republicans.

Senator Conrad said his committee's own "adjustments" to Obama's budget were in response to a worsening economic crisis but still reflected the president's "core priorities."

The president's spending plans are projected to increase the deficit to 1.8 trillion dollars, or 13.1 per cent of gross domestic product this year, and 1.4 trillion dollars in 2010 - 9.6 per cent of GDP - according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Obama's administration has insisted that high spending is necessary over the next two years to spur an economic recovery that will help trim deficits in the future.

"We're inheriting a budget situation that is a mess and that we're working our way out of," Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters.

The administration inherited a 1.3-trillion-dollar deficit from his predecessor George W Bush and points to a promise to cut the deficit in half by 2013.

The CBO predicted that the national debt will rise by 9.3 trillion dollars over the next 10 years, about 2.3 trillion dollars more than the White House's own estimates. (dpa)

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