- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) — President George W. Bush on Monday will release a $2.25 trillion 2004 federal budget — expected to bolster defense and homeland security operations as the nation is poised on the brink of a war in the Middle East and crisis on the Korean peninsula.

In addition to $399.1 billion in defense spending, up from $382.2 billion this year, the budget raises homeland security from $37.7 billion in 2003 to $41.3 billion in 2004.

Even before the Shuttle Columbia disaster Saturday, the budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had been increased to some $15.5 billion from $15 billion in 2003.

At the same time, Bush has proposed a 10-year, $674 billion economic growth plan that includes more than $650 billion in tax cuts. It has triggered new charges from the Democrats that his budget is runaway deficit spending.

The budget will estimate a deficit for fiscal 2003 of $307 billion and $304 billion for 2004 — both surpassing the 1992 record of $290 billion when Bush's father was president.

Democrats in the House of Representatives have charged that Bush's tax plans would end in $1.7 trillion in debt by 2011.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday said 52 percent of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling the economy.

The president's budget books will be made public early Monday, encased in a white cover bearing a blue-line drawing of the White House.

"Our first goal is clear: We must have an economy that grows fast enough to employ every man and woman who seeks a job. After recession, terrorist attacks, corporate scandals, and stock market declines, our economy is recovering — yet it is not growing fast enough, or strongly enough," Bush said last week during his State of the Union address.

The administration will submit its federal budget proposal to a Republican-controlled Congress as questions remain about exactly how much it will cost the United States to prosecute a war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"If war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military — and we will prevail," Bush said in his State of the Union speech. "And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food, and medicines, and supplies … and freedom."

Bush has proposed a higher defense budget than any since the early 1990s, and the Pentagon expects it to grow to $484 billion in spending by fiscal year 2009, according to sources familiar with the budget, including the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The package makes the income tax reductions set for 2004 and 2006 permanent and effective this year, abolishes the marriage penalty and hikes the child tax credit to $1,000, both effective immediately.

Part of Bush's economic recovery plan would provide $3.6 billion for so-called Personal Re-employment Accounts that would provide the jobless with up to $3,000 to use in their search for work.

But the plan also eliminates the tax on share dividends and Democrats lambasted it as a bail-out for the wealthy that will produce deficits of more than $1 trillion over the next decade and do little to stimulate the economy. An effective plan, they said, would have to be immediate, benefit as many people as possible and be fiscally responsible.

With the threat of a conflict that might disrupt half of the United States' oil supplies, Bush has proposed funding what he calls the Freedom Fuel and Freedom Car Initiatives, slated to reverse America's dependence on foreign oil sources. He proposed spending $1.2 billion over five years to develop technology needed for viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power cars and trucks.

The budget proposal will provide $6 billion over 10 years to pay for Project BioShield, "next generation" vaccines for anthrax, smallpox, botulinum toxin, and additional unspecified funds to produce and purchase so-called treatments for dangerous agents such as Ebola and plague.

Bush proposed $15 billion for an emergency HIV/AIDS plan that will address the international pandemic, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean. The fund would receive $2 billion in 2004 and then increase in subsequent years.

The president sought to resurrect interest in his faith-based and "compassionate conservative" agendas with $450 million for mentors for children of prison inmates and more than 1 million disadvantaged middle school children. The administration also announced a three-year, $600 million federal treatment initiative for drug-addicted Americans.

Medicare reform has been a cornerstone of Bush's domestic agenda, along with providing prescription drug coverage for seniors who have been faced with escalating medication costs. Bush said he plans to set aside $400 billion to revamp the senior health insurance plan to give the elderly more choices in how they receive their medical care.

The administration also proposed providing in 2004 an additional $3.25 billion in federal funding for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income families. The program would receive a total of $12.7 billion over the next seven years under the budget proposal.

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