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Budget cuts only a start for Obama

A federal budget that exceeds $3.6 trillion and which leaves about $1 trillion in deficit has got to worry Washington, D.C., lawmakers - or least it should. And not knowing the details of how to make up that deficit is even scarier.

President Barack Obama tries to bridge that gap of uncertainty with his administration's 131-page "Terminations, Reductions, and Savings" document. It identifies 121 terminations, reductions or other areas of savings caused by the 2010 budget that will save nearly $17 billion next year alone.

About half of the savings for the next fiscal year are from defense programs, and half from non-defense programs.

"It is important ... for all of you, as you're writing up these stories, to recognize that $17 billion taken out of our discretionary, non-defense budget, as well as portions of our defense budget, are significant," Obama told reporters. "They mean something."

While a good start, $17 billion is barely a drop in the bucket when considering a $1 trillion deficit. While they do mean something, they don't mean enough. We would urge the Obama administration to sharpen its pencil and seek more spending reductions, as well as a plan to more quickly recover from massive deficits that can only stifle future economic development.

What was interesting, however, was the White House's release of state fact sheets along with the reduction report.

For Minnesota, the administration asserts that its 2010 budget will provide tax cuts for 2 million Minnesota families; give $342.2 million for schools, students and teachers; have $1.6 billion in new funding for Pell Grants to help families pay for college; and, give a pay raise for the 20,700 men and women in Minnesota serving in the armed forces.

It notes that Minnesota's infrastructure is in need of investment, with an estimated 32 percent of the state's major roads in poor or mediocre condition, while 13 percent of the state's bridges are judged structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The Obama budget establishes a national Infrastructure Bank to fund those improvements.

It notes that 1.1 million Minnesotans are uninsured and rising heath care costs take more than $9,300 a year from paychecks of Minnesota residents, and that the administration is making a $635 billion down payment on health care reform.

There is no arguing that our needs are great, and the Obama administration is charting out a plan to resolve them. But it costs money, and now we need to know how we're going to pay for it. And $17 billion isn't near enough.