Obama to Cabinet: Cut $100 Million from Budget

The president says the cut, while small compared with the overall budget, sets a new tone.

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Following Tax Day's "tea party" demonstrations against massive government spending and as Congress reconvenes to try to hammer out a budget deal, President Barack Obama met with his full cabinet today for the first time in his presidency to present a new challenge: cut the budget by $100 million.

At the meeting this morning, the president asked agencies to report back to him with $100 million in collective cuts in 90 days. "As well as you've already done, you're going to have to do more," the president said that he told the cabinet. In some ways, that $100 million is a drop in the bucket. Obama's budget, which passed Congress earlier this month, is $3.5 trillion, and analysts have said that it could create $9.3 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years. For the first half of fiscal 2009, meanwhile, the government has posted a nearly $957 billion budget deficit.

Even if $100 million seems relatively small, however, Obama's request is meant to signal what he's been emphasizing even as he's been rolling out big spending: that some careful spending now will save money later. One example of this is the president's stimulus package, which comes with a huge, $787 billion price tag. But, he and other officials say, it will make the economy more productive and save money in the long term. While steps like passing the stimulus bill were "necessary," Obama said in his remarks after the meeting, moving forward, leaders have an obligation "to make sure that this government is as efficient as possible and that every taxpayer's dollar that is being spent is being spent wisely." Obama also has frequently emphasized that the government must cut the long-term deficit, pledging in February to slash it by half by 2012.

Some cuts already have been proposed, and Obama underlined those today. They include the Veterans Affairs Department's cancellation or delay of 26 conferences, which saves almost $17.8 million, and the Agriculture Department's plan to combine employees from seven different office locations into one in 2011, saving $62 million over 15 years. By having fewer computer printers serve more people, the Agriculture Department plans to save an additional $6.7 million. More savings will also be reaped by the Department of Homeland Security, which says it can cut $52 million from its budget over two years by buying office supplies in bulk and $47 million a year by buying software licenses all at once, rather than independently by agency. "None of these things alone are going to make a difference, but cumulatively, they make a difference, because they start to set a tone," Obama said.