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National

Budget Sent To Congress Values Middle-Class Economics

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There are different ways to look at a White House budget like the one that came out yesterday. You might see it as a set of specific proposals - ideas - and how much they would cost, and that wouldn't be wrong, though even President Obama's budget director on this program yesterday said it is more of a vision. In many ways, it's the president's latest entry into a debate over the size and role of government, as NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: For the last several years, Congress and the White House have been consumed by an effort to cut the budget deficit and at the same time climb out of the deep hole of the Great Recession. The message of the president's fiscal year 2016 budget is been there, done that. Free from the constraints of a re-election campaign and out from under the weight of the recession and massive federal deficits, Mr. Obama is trying to refocus the debate in Washington on a different problem. It's a big, persistent and, even for economists, mysterious one - even when the economy is expanding, economic growth is unevenly shared, almost all the gains go to the top sliver of Americans with the most income and wealth. Middle-class incomes have stagnated, and even when productivity improves, wage growth doesn't follow. The president says his budget will begin to correct that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well, or are we going to build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead? That was the focus of my State of the Union address a couple of weeks ago, what I called middle-class economics, the idea that this country does best when everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody's doing their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules. The budget that Congress now has in its hands is built on those values.

LIASSON: The president's budget increases spending by 7 percent over last year. He wants to invest in infrastructure and research and offer tax credits to lower- and middle-income families paying for education, child care or retirement. His budget asks the richest Americans and the biggest banks to pay for those initiatives.

For the first time in a long time, both sides actually agree on the problem - inequality is growing and the middle class is stuck. The president has put his first offer on the table. Next up, the Republicans, who have already rejected his plans to raise taxes, will have a chance to offer theirs. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.