- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

Calling for huge increases in spending for homeland security and defense, President Bush's $2.2 trillion budget for 2004 presents a challenge to Republican appropriators as they try to balance the president's priorities with a desire to keep spending under control.
Mr. Bush will present the budget, which includes deficits of around $300 billion in each of the next two years, to Congress this morning.
White House budget chief Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. downplayed the size of the projected deficits, pointing out that $300 billion is only 3 percent of the $10 trillion economy.
"There is a conscious choice here, but we should bear in mind if the number one priority was balancing the budget, it would not be a great trick to do," Mr. Daniels said in an interview last week.
In his State of the Union address last week, Mr. Bush said he wanted to increase spending by no more than 4 percent this year, and with an overall increase of $100 billion, he's on the mark.
"That's a good benchmark for us," Mr. Bush said. "Federal spending should not rise any faster than the paychecks of American families."
Keeping that promise, yet still increasing defense and homeland security spending, means relatively meager budget increases elsewhere.
Mr. Daniels said last week the Pentagon is slated for $381 billion in 2004, about 5 percent more than the current fiscal year. Spending for the new Homeland Security Department, which the president said is needed to "answer every danger and every enemy that threatens the American people," is expected to be around $40 billion.
That would leave about $13 billion in additional spending for the rest of government, said Mr. Daniels. Of that, Mr. Bush has proposed $1 billion more in 2004 for the education of handicapped students. Other spending priorities outlined in the State of the Union address include:
$756 million next year to fund school-choice initiatives.
$750 million over the next five years to accelerate the development of pollution-free hydrogen-driven vehicles.
$450 million over the next three years for child-mentoring programs.
$15 billion over the next five years to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa, triple the amount previously spent.
$6 billion next year for vaccines and treatments against anthrax, Ebola and plague.
Also included in the budget is $400 billion over the next 10 years to reform Medicare and the $647 billion tax cut Mr. Bush said is needed to stimulate a stalled economy.
Democrats are poised to pounce on the president's budget, saying it cuts too deeply from social services and education.
"The bottom line is that if you take Bush at his word, simple math shows there will be very real and substantial cuts to domestic priorities and safety net programs at the same time he is pushing a giant tax break for his rich pals," said David Sirota, spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, said "those are Washington cuts," in which planned increases are scaled back and called "cuts."
"I'd like someone to point out a cut in a discretionary budget in the past," Mr. Nussle said, noting that non-entitlement spending has increased from around $500 billion in the early 1990s to $750 billion last year. "With 4 percent growth, there's plenty of room for spending."
Mr. Nussle said "spending restraint has to be an important goal" this year.
Complicating the always contentious congressional budget process is that it broke down last year to the extent that 11 of 13 spending bills for 2003 are still in limbo. A joint House and Senate conference committee is in the process of hammering out spending bills that were due Oct. 1
While the House Budget Committee succeeded in getting a budget resolution passed on the floor last year, the Senate resolution never got out of the then-Democrat-controlled committee.
Mr. Nussle has grown weary of the counterpart committee in the Senate. He said Democrats "played chicken with the budget last year" and "lost the election" because of it. He said he wants the House side to finish its work by early April, and hopes the Senate can keep up.
Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and new chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said he is disappointed the Senate was unable to complete its work last year. He said if there is another breakdown "then the budget process is dead."
But the spending process won't be. Whether or not a budget resolution is reached this year, the House and Senate Appropriations committees will move forward with their own spending bills.

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