US Budget constraints limit Barack Obama's second-term agenda
Those caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act do not apply to popular benefits like the Social Security retirement program and Medicare, the health plan for retirees. Obama and fellow Democrats have so far blocked Republican proposals to scale back these programs, which are projected to grow at the same rate as the economy for the next four years before expanding as aging "baby boomers" drive up costs.
INCREASING ECONOMIC MOBILITY
Instead, the caps cover the 36 percent of government spending that is set annually by Congress. Known as discretionary spending, this category covers everything from the Defense Department to the National Endowment for the Arts.
It also includes social programs that Obama allies say are crucial for his agenda of broadening opportunity and expanding the middle class.
"If you were looking into all the corners of the budget to find those programs that helped to promote the economic mobility of disadvantaged people, many, if not most, would be there," said Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
The White House estimates that nonmilitary discretionary spending will shrink from 4.3 percent of the economy in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2011 to 2.8 percent when he leaves office in January 2017. That would be the lowest level since the government began keeping track in 1962.
An automatic cut due to take effect in March, known as the "sequester," will slash discretionary spending another 8 percent unless Democrats and Republicans agree on a
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