Mr. Obama's budget for the 2014 fiscal year

April 17, 2013

Hello, again. I’m Jim Tedder in Washington.

President Obama has proposed a $3.77 trillion budget for the federal government. The president says his budget will help America’s economic recovery.

“That is what the budget I am sending to Congress today represents: a fiscally responsible blueprint for middle-class jobs and growth.”

Mr. Obama’s budget for the 2014 fiscal year is 2.5 percent higher than the 2013 budget. But the president says it would cut the deficit by $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years. He wants his budget to replace the spending cuts required under sequestration. Those cuts resulted when the two main parties failed to reach a budget agreement.

Today we hear how the proposed budget could affect international food aid, the United States military and a nearly 80-year-old government program, Social Security.

American food aid has rescued people in need for nearly 60 years. No other country gives as much. The Obama budget proposes major changes to how the United States would provide food aid.

The aid usually comes in the form of American-grown crops sent on American ships. But aid workers say that is not always the best way to help people overseas. Studies show food bought locally costs 25 to 50 percent less and arrives up to 14 weeks sooner than food shipped from the United States.

Mr. Obama wants to use 45 percent of the $1.4 billion food aid budget to buy food closer to where it is needed. Officials say the changes would save enough money to reach up to four million more people. But farmers in the United States say the changes would reduce jobs in the food industry.

And shipping food aid helps support the United States Merchant Marine. Lee Kincaid heads the American Maritime Congress, a shipping industry group. He says the Merchant Marine is important to national security.

“...The U.S. mariners that actually carried the U.S. goods into the war zones. So any impact whatsoever, any loss of ships, any loss of the ship’s crews will be detrimental not only to the security of the world, but the security of the United States.”

Rajiv Shah is head of the United States Agency for International Development. He says lifting farmers in developing countries out of poverty will make the world safer. And he says the president’s proposal would do that more effectively than current operations.

“The one thing I think is inexcusable is promoting inefficiency in trying to accomplish something so profound as saving these lives.”

Experts say changes to the 60-year-old food aid program face opposition in Congress.

You are listening to As It Is from VOA Learning English. I’m Jim Tedder.

Only hours after the president announced his budget proposal, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described his own spending plan. Secretary Hagel says the plan calls for $526 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year starting on October first. He says the budget would cut some civilian employees and poorly performing weapons systems. And he says it could lead to some military bases closing.

“Fiscal realities demand that we make tough decisions that have been deferred in the past. The longer we put this off, the harder it’s going to be, particularly given the uncertainty that still exists about future levels of defense spending.”

Political observers say Congress is not likely to approve the Defense Department budget. They say lawmakers will not want to vote for a budget that cuts tens of thousands of jobs and closes bases. But they say it may provide the Defense Department with a way to help end a budgetary dispute between Congress and the Obama administration.

The proposed budget includes more spending on attack submarines and cyber security. Both are important to the administration’s plans in East Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

Older Americans are protesting the budget proposals that would reduce government assistance for retired workers. Some conservatives say the proposals would save the government billions of dollars. But others say the changes would harm people who need the most help. Steve Ember explains.

The Obama budget would limit the yearly increase to Social Security payments by using a different method to measure inflation. About 58 million Americans receive social security benefits. Many live on set incomes.

"Everything is going up. It's rising and there is not much you can do about it."

Kay Dennison works part-time at a retirement center in Maryland. She worries she could lose everything if her Social Security payments fail to keep up with inflation.

"Probably my home, because everything is so tight and so high, and the mortgage rates. We've been in our home 40 years and we still owe."

The proposed changes would save the government an estimated 130 billion dollars over ten years. But AARP --a group that campaigns for older adults – warns that the proposal would be harmful to the average retiree. It says the retiree would get 220 dollars less a year after five years and 862 dollars less each year after 20 years.

Monique Morrissey is an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. She says reducing already small payments is not fair to older poor Americans.

"Poverty rates for the oldest, old --are higher, incomes are lower, they've often used up other resources, they have more out of pocket expenses for healthcare --they're the last group you would ever want to target to take the brunt of these cuts."

The social security program now takes in less money than it spends as the population ages. Conservative economists say more cuts may be necessary to keep the program operating.

Charles Konigsberg works for the Federal Budget Group. He says Americans have a choice. They can either pay more money into the system or face reduced benefits.

Virginia Levy, a retired educator, considers herself lucky. Her monthly social security checks help add to her teacher's retirement pay.

"I'm worried more about future generations, what it's going to do to them. My children are 40 and what's going to happen to them when they are retiring?”

President Obama's proposed budget includes additional cuts to Medicare. Many older Americans depend on this government program for their medical needs. Experts say it is probable that Congress will not approve the president’s budget without making changes as they face election campaigns next year. I’m Steve Ember.

And that’s “As It Is” for today. You can hear the latest world news at the beginning of the hour on VOA.