STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – Top administration officials mounted a strong sales pitch on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for President Barack Obama’s day-old $3.8 trillion budget, saying it would help lift the economy and keep the nation strong.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the $768.2 billion defense part of the budget would help pay for “a broad portfolio of military capabilities” as it fights wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Gates said the spending would also help the United States “prepare for a much broader range of security capabilities.”
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel that the war in Afghanistan is now the Pentagon’s top priority. “The Afghan people are the center of gravity and defeat of al-Qaida the primary goal,” he said.
Administration officials were testifying at three separate committees to outline Obama’s new budget, stuffed with initiatives to spark jobs and lift the economy. The budget was getting an early test with lawmakers weary of record deficits, wary of Obama’s tax ideas and nervous about winning re-election in November.
Obama’s proposed $5,000-per-job tax credit for companies that hire more workers could come up for debate in the Senate as early as the end of the week — if senators can work out the details.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Obama’s budget director, Peter Orszag, were to push it during appearances to explain the president’s $3.8 trillion budget plan.
Obama, meanwhile, headed for politically significant New Hampshire, where he was to unveil a proposed $30 billion small-business lending program.