Bush touts boost for homeland security
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- President Bush continued his push for funding of the priorities in his $2.13 trillion budget Tuesday, visiting a medical research facility to highlight his proposals to nearly double spending next year on homeland security measures.
Along with defense spending, homeland security is one of the few areas that would get significant increases under Bush's proposed budget, which largely holds the line on spending in other areas of the federal government.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized the budget, in part because it projects an $80 billion deficit next year on top of a $106 billion deficit this year.
The White House has sought to counter the criticism by saying it is a wartime budget and that spending to ensure adequate funding of the U.S. military and the protection of the homeland from any future terrorist attacks should be the top priorities.
Bush pushed that message at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where he toured a medical research facility -- even looking at some anthrax spores through a microscope -- before he delivered a speech emphasizing the importance of homeland security efforts.
A day earlier, he visited Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and addressed military personnel in a speech highlighting the budget's focus on defense spending.
Under the president's budget, spending on the military would reach $379 billion in the 2003 fiscal year, which begins October 1.
That would amount to a $48 billion increase from current spending levels, the biggest boost since Ronald Reagan was president.
Homeland security efforts would nearly double, to $38 billion.
"I have made the homeland security a top budget priority and I ask Congress to respond in a positive way to this request," Bush said in Pittsburgh. "We must do everything in our power -- everything -- to protect our fellow Americans."
The homeland security budget includes $6 billion to combat bioterrorism, funds to help state and local police, fire and rescue personnel, and money to tighten the borders and beef up airport security.
Bush's comments came as Congress started budget hearings, a process that will take months before the budget is adopted. Key administration members went to Capitol Hill to present their proposed budgets before lawmakers in both Houses.
Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, have criticized the plan for not preserving the Social Security surplus, which lawmakers in both parties vowed to protect before the recession hit.
Daschle endorsed Bush's support for spending on defense and homeland security but said in a statement, "The dramatic fiscal decline of the past several months suggests that we need a plan to strengthen our economic security as well.
"We need a plan that will keep our commitments to Social Security and Medicare without making deep cuts in benefits, shortchanging our other national priorities or running deficits. Unfortunately, the budget the administration submitted [Monday] is not that plan," Daschle said.
Apart from defense and homeland security efforts, the Bush budget plan largely would impose fiscal belt-tightening on other agencies.
The rest of the budget would grow by 2 percent under the president's plan.
The return to deficits comes after four years of surpluses, but administration officials projected the red ink will turn to black again in 2005.