STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The U.S. economy is improving, even though Americans keep having to look over their shoulders at Europe. The state of the economy affects everything in American politics right now, from the presidential election to the budget that the White House lays out today.
NPR's Cokie Roberts has some analysis, as she does the most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, so what does the president's budget tell us?
ROBERTS: Well, it tells us what his priorities are, because we know there's not likely to be a budget passed in Congress this year. There's not likely to be much of anything passed in Congress this year. But the president is going to Northern Virginia Community College to announce his budget. That's no accident, because he says that it shows that he wants to invest in community colleges and job training.
And what Republicans would call spending, he calls investments - in transportation, infrastructure, and in research and development.
But it, you know, also ends with a $1.3 trillion deficit, but he says that it's going down. It will be $4 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years and he'll get to that number by ending the Bush era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000, and limiting deductions for high earners - that so-called Buffet Rule where there would be a minimum rate of 30 percent of taxes for millionaires.
And look Steve, you know, budgets are always political documents as well as economic ones. And these are all things that are polling well. Even among Republicans, a majority says that millionaires should be paying higher taxes.
So I think the president is looking at this as something to take on the campaign trail rather than to take to Capitol Hill, and this is where the Democrats wanted to be. They wanted to be in a position where they were arguing about what to spend money on rather than how much money to spend, because they think they win that argument.
INSKEEP: Of course, if the Republicans are able to push it back into that broader question of spending or the broader question of that very large deficit you mentioned, is that helpful to Republicans?
ROBERTS: Well, they're certainly going to try it, and they spent all day yesterday doing that, reminding people that Obama said in 2009 that he would bring the $1.4 trillion deficit that he inherited, he would cut it in half by the end of his first term, and of course, he hasn't done that. But, you know, deficits don't work that well as a campaign issue.
Jack Kemp, the longtime Republican lawmaker and sometimes presidential candidate, used to say that there were Old Testament Republicans and New Testament Republicans, meaning that those who were preaching a happier gospel of the New Testament did better, and those who were warning of the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament didn't do so well, and that's what screaming about the deficit often comes across as.
Now it did work in the Congressional campaigns of 2010 where the Tea Party did so well, using the deficit, but it was more a metaphor than a reality there - more talking about the economy as a whole and feeling like Washington was out of touch. I think the deficit as an abstract idea is not a terribly useful campaign tool.
INSKEEP: Well what about the Republicans who want to replace President Obama? Mitt Romney, of course, managed to win, narrowly, caucuses in Maine after losing some big contests to Rick Santorum a few days before that.
ROBERTS: Well, he had to win something after Santorum's sweep on last Tuesday. And Maine, where a few thousand people – and I mean a few thousand people voted – about 5,000 – he pulled out by a couple of hundred votes over Ron Paul.
And he also won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action conference that was meeting here all over the weekend. Rick Santorum, who came in second in that straw poll, implies that Romney essentially bought it. And Sarah Palin, who really wowed everybody at that conference, says that the party is still not convinced on Romney, not seeing Romney get over the hump, she said. We are not convinced. And that is the problem that he is having inside the party.
Now he's got to get something going between now and the end of this month when there's Michigan and Arizona primaries. And he's got to do something more to convince the Republicans.
INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts who joins us with analysis most Monday mornings. You hear her right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.