Bush proposes deep cuts in many Clinton-era programs
WASHINGTON – President Bush targeted scores of federal programs on Monday to make room for his $1.6 trillion tax cut, proposing to slash funds for urban police patrols, energy conservation and pediatrician training.
”Washington is known for its pork. This budget funds our needs without the fat,” Bush told reporters as his administration sent Congress a 2,500-page document filling in the fine-print of the $1.96 trillion rudimentary budget he outlined in February.
Democrats balked, saying Bush’s proposals would cut bone as well as fat, and noted that the Senate already had repudiated part of Bush’s tax plan by trimming it back to $1.2 trillion.
Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, cited ”bewildering, curious cuts in this budget” and said he doubted Bush could win even GOP support for some of the cuts.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the Senate last week ”rejected the framework on which today’s plan is based…. This may be the first budget in history that wasn’t just dead on arrival – it was dead before arrival.”
Bush’s budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 would hold growth in discretionary spending to a 4 percent increase, far below this year’s 8.7 percent increase. Mandatory ”entitlement” programs such as Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits would not be affected.
The president’s February outline highlighted spending increases, including big boosts in defense and education spending. Monday’s formal submission – consisting of a five-inch stack of blue books – was the first detailed look at the proposed cuts.
Bush urged reductions in 10 of the government’s 25 major agencies. The deepest are at the departments of Agriculture and Transportation.
Many programs put in place by former President Clinton were targeted, including a 17 percent cut in his program to put 100,000 new police officers on city streets. Part of the savings would be redirected to beefing up security at the nation’s schools.
Administration officials said Clinton’s goal had largely been met.
”Programs never go away in Washington, and that’s one of the reasons the government is so big,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. ”There’s no shortage of people in this town who will oppose the budget because they want to spend more.”
The budget calls for a $35 million cut in a program to help train pediatricians and other health professionals at children’s hospitals. That cut is ”out of step with Congress,” where there has been wide bipartisan support for the program, said a statement by the National Association of Children’s Hospitals.
Bush’s budget also would trim environmental and energy-conservation programs, limit Space Station research, and slash programs to help Russian nuclear scientists find civilian work and to boost economic development in poor neighborhoods. It also would cut programs that support ship building and reward energy conservation at American companies.
Some communities would lose federally subsidized scheduled air service. And Bush would shave roughly $1 billion from an array of health projects in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called the budget ”shortsighted” and ”fantasy land in many places.” He also said it understated defense spending by leaving open the likelihood that the administration would submit a later request for additional increases once Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld completes a department-wide review.
Although Bush stood by his $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax cut, the debate already has been overtaken by votes in Congress.
The Senate voted last Friday to pare Bush’s tax cut by roughly 25 percent, to $1.2 trillion, making it unlikely he can expect to get the full $1.6 trillion despite upbeat comments Monday by Bush and congressional Republicans.
”We can return at least $1.6 trillion back to the taxpayers who created the surplus,” asserted House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, calling Bush’s budget ”fair and responsible.”
A House-Senate budget conference committee is expected to come up with a compromise between the lower Senate number and the $1.6 trillion endorsed earlier by the House.
Bush’s budget also assumes the federal government will raise $1.2 billion a year – beginning in 2004 – from oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Congress currently prohibits any such sales.
The new Bush budget will be a guide to House and Senate appropriations committees as they work on the 13 annual spending bills that allocate money for federal programs.
Bush’s budget does include some increases, including a big boost for medical research to combat AIDS and other diseases. He would also increase spending on research to help keep out of this country the foot-and-mouth and Mad Cow diseases now affecting livestock in Europe.
His budget also detailed a variety of specialized tax cuts, including a new tax credit of up to $2,000 per year to help uninsured people buy health insurance – even those who pay no income taxes.
”This plan reflects the president’s vision and priorities for providing tax relief for American families,” said Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.
But Gene Sperling, who was Clinton’s top economic adviser, said the budget reveals ”explicit trade offs … to provide a tax cut for the well-off at the expense of things like child care, inner-city investments and assistance for many of our least well-off.”
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said that even in education, where Bush is claiming big increases, most of the gains were produced by ”smoke and mirrors” rather that real spending growth.
Even with the restraint in spending and the large tax cut in Bush’s plan, the record $1.96 trillion overall price tag is equivalent to about $7,000 for every man, woman and child in the country, according to budget documents.
Along with copies of the budget, Bush staffers handed reporters audio cassettes of the Rolling Stones’ ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” They suggested it underscored Bush’s theme that the government must do more with less.
The administration stuck by its earlier economic assumptions, pegging the surplus at a total of $5.64 trillion over 10 years.
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