Bush officials defend budget plan before lawmakers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A sharply divided Congress began debating the Bush administration's $2.57 trillion budget for fiscal year 2006 Tuesday, with Democrats criticizing administration officials on topics from the proposed Social Security overhaul to the deficit.
"This budget is not going to put us on a path to balancing the budget. Not in five years, not in 10 years, not in 20 years," U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-South Carolina, told Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
"It would put us on a path to endless deficits and a Mount Everest of mountainous debt," said Spratt, the ranking minority member on the House Budget Committee.
Bolten was among administration officials defending the budget, telling the committee it "meets the priorities of the nation and builds on the progress of the last four years."
Appearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, Treasury Secretary John Snow said the budget -- which proposes the largest spending cuts since the Reagan administration -- is designed to continue economic growth.
A priority, Snow said, is dealing with the nation's deficit. The budget deficit is projected to hit a record $427 billion in 2006.
"This shouldn't be a partisan issue, the issue of our children's well-being," he said.
Committee member Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, was among those holding Snow's feet to the fire.
Rangel said he plans to issue a statement saying the president's proposal for Social Security's partial privatization is dead, as it is not included in the 2006 budget.
He said it probably would not be included in next year's budget because the administration would not want Republicans to touch "that third rail" in a midterm election year.
He also said the costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not in the budget. The administration has said the $80 billion Bush is seeking for military action is a supplemental to the budget. (Full story)
On Social Security, Rangel asked Snow when members of Congress would receive the president's proposal and whether any Democrat is working with the administration on the plan.
"I think we need to rise above partisan politics on this one," Snow said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, described the budget as "austere."
"There'll be a lot of people coming into each of our offices, saying, 'My program has got flat funding,' or 'My program has been cut,' " Frist said.
He urged members of Congress "to digest what's in the budget, attend the hearings, take a big-picture look and then focus down on each and every one of these programs."
In remarks to the Detroit, Michigan, Economic Club, Bush defended the program cuts by saying those on the chopping block have not shown good results.
"My 2006 budget eliminates or substantially reduces more than 150 federal programs that are not succeeding, that are duplicating existing efforts or that are not fulfilling an essential priority," he said.
House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, had harsh words for naysayers as the hearing opened, saying it is easy for Democrats to criticize the budget without offering an alternative.
"You are not allowed in this committee to say 'no' without an alternative," Nussle told committee members. " 'No' is not an answer. We're going to come up with alternatives and solutions."
He said he already was hearing criticism on cuts made in the budget proposal, which was sent Monday to Congress.
"In Washington, a cut is described too often as a decrease in an anticipated increase," he said.
However, Spratt, the South Carolina lawmaker, said: "It's daunting to consider where we were five years ago, as we sat here on a surplus of $236 billion."
Nussle agreed a surplus was nice, but he said, "I don't want to go back. Would I want to do that at the cost of our military ... and not defend the country? Would I not want to fund homeland security and protect the country?"
Referring to the Iraq war and the war on terror, he said, "These are the reasons why we're in deficit, folks. We made deliberate decisions in a bipartisan way -- at least they were then. Now, we're acting like, 'Gosh, I don't know how we got here.' Just about every member of this committee did, with a glad heart, vote for many of those proposals."
Twelve of 23 major government agencies will receive less money under the new budget than in 2005. (Full story)
Among the 150 government programs slated for significant cuts or elimination are health benefits for more affluent veterans, federal subsidies for Amtrak and grants for school literacy and anti-drug programs. (Full story)
The fiscal year begins October 1.