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By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans quickly erected a wall of opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposed 2015 budget, establishing election-year battle lines over which party can best handle the nation’s finances and address rising income inequality.

It’s no surprise Republicans oppose Obama’s signature priorities in the budget — shoring up the Affordable Care Act and pursuing a comprehensive immigration law overhaul.

But as both parties try to appeal to middle America heading into the fall midterm elections, each is seeking arguments focused on the pocketbook issues that continue to worry many Americans in the sputtering economy.

Obama’s ideas for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and extending unemployment benefits for long-term jobless have already run into dead-ends in Congress.

Added to that list Tuesday were the president’s proposals for expanding tax breaks for the working poor, the Head Start preschool program and Pell Grants for college students. Those all face strong resistance from Republicans.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a possible 2016 presidential contender, took particular aim at Obama’s plan to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is essentially a cash-back tax refund for the working poor. Obama proposes doubling the refund for those without children to $1,000. Currently, childless workers receive a much smaller tax break than single parents and families.

“We should be reforming this flawed approach to helping low-income workers, not expanding it,” Rubio said.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) the House Budget Committee chairman, also wants to limit such initiatives, not expand them. He cited some of the programs highlighted by Obama among the more than 90 anti-poverty programs on the chopping block for possible cuts.

He called Obama’s budget “another disappointment,” in large part because it fails to address long-term safety net spending and bring the nation’s revenue and spending into balance.

“This budget isn’t a serious document; it’s a campaign brochure,” Ryan said.

House Republicans have promised to respond with their own 2015 budget proposal, even though their document, and the president’s, are largely theoretical exercises this year.

Thanks to a budget accord reached in December between Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., his counterpart in the Senate, spending levels for this year and next have already been approved by Congress and signed into law.

Ryan’s budget is expected to revisit his ideas for cutting Medicaid and Medicare, including his own signature proposal to cap health care spending for the next generation of Medicare recipients with a voucher program.

Ryan is also expected to propose lower income and corporate tax rates, as he has in the past. But he is unlikely to attach a sweeping tax overhaul proposed by his GOP colleague, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the outgoing chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. That proposal would close some of the same loopholes Obama wants to end for wealthier Americans, but faces broad resistance.

“In the coming weeks, Republicans will produce a responsible budget that balances, promotes opportunity, reforms our tax code, saves our critical safety net programs, and places a priority on creating jobs, not more government,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH)

What remains unclear, though, is if the speaker will be able to rally his often rebellious majority to actually pass any GOP alternative.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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