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S.C. lawmakers pan Obama budget

WASHINGTON — There may have been a time when federal spending cuts north of $1 trillion proposed by a president — a Democratic president, to boot — would have been a big number.

Not anymore.

The seven Republican members of Congress from South Carolina competed Monday to deride, ridicule and reject President Barack Obama's new budget with $1.1 trillion in spending reductions over the next decade.

The GOP lawmakers focused instead on a bigger figure — the $3.73 trillion Obama wants to spend next year alone.

First-year Rep. Tim Duncan, a Laurens Republican who replaced Gresham Barrett after Barret's failed gubernatorial bid, accused Obama of "fiscal recklessness" for refusing to make deeper cuts.

"President Obama's budget is dangerously out of touch with reality and represents decades of misguided Washington reasoning," Duncan said. "The status quo of more debt-fueled government spending is beyond unacceptable."

Obama's proposed budget for the federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, makes federal spending the pivotal battleground in a clash with the newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives over how to recover from a deep recession.

Rep. Tim Scott, a North Charleston Republican who represents his party's large freshman class in the House GOP leadership, said Obama's proposed budget cuts are far too modest.

"With $14.1 trillion in national debt, this is not a serious proposal to deal with our problem," Scott said. "Any plan that only looks at 15 percent of federal domestic discretionary spending is not credible."

Obama's $3.73 trillion budget for the 2012 fiscal year includes new funding of education, infrastructure and research that he says is critical for extended economic recovery, but his plan leaves overall spending at current levels.

Pledging to start reining in runaway federal deficits, the Obama plan would cut this year's record $1.65 trillion deficit to $1.1 trillion next year.

That's not good enough for Sen. Lindsey Graham.

"The Obama budget doubles the national debt by 2012 (since he took office in January 2009) and triples it by 2019," the Seneca Republican said. "The spending reductions are not close to what is necessary to get our fiscal house in order. The Obama budget is also silent on the elephant in the room — that's the future growth of entitlements."

Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, the No. 3 House Democrat, is the party's only congressman from South Carolina, and he was the only lawmaker to defend fellow Democrat Obama's budget.

"We're beginning to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Clyburn said. "This budget makes the targeted investments necessary to build upon the 11 months of economic growth put in place by this president and the last (Democratic) Congress."

Clyburn said the Obama plan makes necessary spending cuts.

"It begins to put our fiscal house in order by tightening our belt and reducing the deficit by $1.1 trillion," Clyburn said. "I believe this budget has a positive vision for the future and puts our country back on a responsible fiscal path that focuses on living within our means."

In his budget, though, Obama avoids tough choices on such big issues as Medicare and Social Security.

The president's blueprint envisions federal spending jumping by $363 billion in the current fiscal year, dropping by $90 billion for the next year, but then rising again by an average of $218 billion a year for nine years.

The Obama budget would leave the government $26.35 trillion in debt a decade from now — an increase of almost $12.8 trillion from last year.

Some analysts said Obama's plan does too little to address a simmering debt crisis.

"You're treading water when you are about to go over Niagara Falls," said Robert Bixby, head of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget group in Arlington, Va.

Freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican who defeated House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt in November, said the $3.7 trillion Obama seeks to spend in the coming fiscal year would represent one-quarter of the gross domestic product — the biggest share since World War II.

"His so-called 'cuts' won't even begin to cover the interest payments on the massive amount of debt that he created," Mulvaney said. "If the president's budget were to become law, it would guarantee that America will become the next Greece."

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund bailed out the Greek government last year after its debt soared beyond $400 billion, outstripping the size of its economy.

Mulvaney and other Republicans glossed over the fact that Obama hasn't created anything close to all current federal debt despite having overseen massive stimulus spending the last two years in a bid to jumpstart the stalled economy.

Almost one-third of the present $14.1 trillion in debt — nearly $4.46 trillion — accrued under President George W. Bush, primarily to finance tax cuts and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush's three predecessors — Democrat Bill Clinton and Republicans George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan — oversaw a combined $4.73 trillion in increased government debt.

In scarcely two years in office, however, Obama has accumulated $4.2 trillion in debt — almost as much as the younger Bush accrued over eight years, and 30 percent of the total going back to the end of World War II.

"Our economic challenges will not be solved by budgetary tweaks and superficial spending cuts," said freshman Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Spartanburg Republican who defeated incumbent Rep. Bob Inglis in their Upstate district's GOP primary in June and then sailed to victory in the November general election.

"President Obama's budget proposal does not reflect the demands of the American people," Gowdy said. "It fails to adequately address the root causes of our nation's fiscal crisis — unsustainable debt and out-of-control government spending."

(David Lightman of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed.)