Democrats: Bush budget 'dead before arrival'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional Democrats are already predicting the demise of President Bush's first federal budget proposal, saying his $1.96 trillion request for fiscal 2002 will scare off enough moderate Republicans to make it a legislative failure.
The White House sent the budget to Congress Monday in the form of bound, multi-volume copies.
Some Democrats predicted the president's drive to cut many popular environmental and health programs would cause angst for some GOP members of Congress worried about their next election.
"This may be the first budget in history that wasn't just dead on arrival -- it was dead before arrival," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, after he had had some time to digest the budget's contents.
Daschle and other Democrats pointed out that Bush suffered a serious setback last week when the evenly divided Senate trimmed roughly $450 billion from Bush's proposed $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax package.
Some of that money could be restored in a House-Senate conference on the congressional budget resolution that will convene later this month, but Democrats believe Bush should regard last week's turn of events as a warning.
Should just two or three Republicans defect in the Senate, Bush's spending priorities through the appropriations season could be jeopardized.
"There needs to be recognition by the administration that his budget is not going to get through the Senate because his priorities are not the priorities of the country," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, told the Associated Press.
Not only did Bush deliver his budget to Congress two months later than presidents customarily submit their spending requests, he also waited until the beginning of a two-week congressional recess.
The budget calls for big increases in spending for education and defense but cuts transportation, agriculture and environmental protection.
"This budget funds our needs without the fat," Bush told reporters as he convened a Cabinet meeting Monday morning. "It represents a new way of doing business in Washington and a new way of thinking. It puts the taxpayers first, and that is exactly where they belong."
The Bush budget projects a surplus of $231 billion for next year and a growth rate of 5.6 percent in federal spending. By comparison, spending in this year's budget represented an 8.7 percent increase over 2000. The budget also includes Bush's proposed 10-year tax cut.
As usual, the bulk of the budget -- nearly $1.1 trillion next year -- would go to mandatory entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Education and medical research are among the president's priorities.
The Department of Education would get the biggest percentage boost of any agency -- 11.5 percent -- if Bush's budget makes it through Congress. The proposed $44.6 billion education budget would triple the money available for literacy programs and boost federal spending on elementary and secondary schools.
Bush followed through on a campaign pledge by proposing a big increase for the National Institutes of Health, which would receive an additional $2.8 billion under his plan. And, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would see an increase of more than $120 million, or about 10 percent.
The Pentagon would receive the largest increase in raw dollars, with an additional $13.6 billion slated for a total defense budget of $310 billion. $1.4 billion of that would go toward pay increases and other measures to improve the quality of life for service members.
But Democrats noted that Bush proposes to cut deeply into health care, education and conservation programs "in order to make way for the president's tax cut," said Rep. John Spratt, D-South Carolina, ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
"Once we got the budget today, we found out why it was so long coming," Spratt said.
A long road ahead
The House and Senate have already passed competing versions of their fiscal 2002 budget resolutions -- versions that will have to be reconciled in a much-anticipated House-Senate conference.
The congressional budget resolution sets the stage for committees in each chamber to begin setting the funding levels for every federal department, agency and program. Their deadline to agree on the numbers is October 1, start of the new fiscal year.
Among the challenges for the House and Senate members appointed to the budget resolution conference will be to close the gap between the Senate's $1.2 trillion tax cut and the $1.6 trillion cut the House passed in March.
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said negotiations between House and Senate members could restore much of that.
"I would expect the final number to be close to, if not at, the president's proposed level," he said.
Democrats: Budget slights environment
But Democrats are incensed at the entire budget view, not just the tax cuts.
Spratt said Bush cuts a "significant sum of money" from environmental protection programs across several Cabinet agencies, including the Interior and Energy departments and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Spending on environmental programs would fall by about $2.3 billion. The cuts include funding to implement the Kyoto global warming treaty and $190 million in research on renewable energy sources.
Interior would be cut from $10.2 billion to $9.8 billion. EPA would lose $500 million under his budget -- a decrease of about 6.5 percent.
Further, Spratt said, most members of Congress expect spending requests to go up as the year goes on, so "any kind of significant downturn in the economy is going to put the budget back in the red."
But O'Neill discounted those concerns Monday.
"We're trying to do the people's business, and what we have proposed in budget is what the president and rest of us believe is appropriate for the people," O'Neill said.
Another loser in the proposal is the Agriculture Department, whose budget would be $1.5 billion less than the current year's, a cut of about 8 percent.
The biggest single cut among Cabinet agencies is slated for the Transportation Department, which will lose $2.1 billion under the Bush plan -- about 12 percent of its budget. But Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said much of current spending is for one-time projects.
"When we subtract those one-time fiscal year 2001 projects, then our $59.5 billion dollar budget for the Department of Transportation is up some 6 percent," Mineta said.
White House officials portrayed the budget as an attack on "pork barrel" projects. White House aides estimated the budget cuts up to $8 billion in so-called pork-barrel spending and said many of the cuts questioned Monday involve such projects.
"What opponents of this budget want to do is spend more government money," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "It's the classic formula for how to build a big government."
White House budget director Mitch Daniels said the cuts at the EPA, for example, mostly involve spending on "things that regularly come under the porcine label." He said EPA's core programs would not suffer and that none of the EPA's more than 17,000 employees would lose their jobs.
Despite the $500 million in cuts, EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman said Monday the budget "indicates a strong commitment to the environment."
Bush budget trims EPA, boosts education, defense
The White House
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