- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 5, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush’s 2007 budget proposes spending more than $2.7 trillion, showering big increases on defense and homeland security and a smattering of other favored programs such as scientific research, education and energy.

At the same time, Mr. Bush’s blueprint being submitted to Congress today proposes shrinking or eliminating 141 programs while achieving $36 billion in Medicare savings over the next five years.

The plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 lays out a path to achieving two of the president’s chief domestic goals — making permanent his first-term tax cuts, which are set to expire after 2010, and cutting the deficit in half by 2009, the year Mr. Bush will leave office.

Details about the plan come from public statements, such as Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address last week, and interviews with officials familiar with the budget proposal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want pre-empt the president’s announcement today.

The budget’s arrival on Capitol Hill will set off months of intense debate, made even more contentious by congressional elections in November in which Democrats want to wrest congressional control from the Republicans.

Although Congress is expected to reshape Mr. Bush’s proposals significantly, Republicans voiced support for the blueprint’s objectives.

“The American people know that our government’s too big, and it spends too much. And they expect Congress to do something about it,” newly elected House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Democrats sought to portray it as an election-year campaign document rather than an honest effort to deal with exploding deficits.

The budget proposal’s release comes only weeks before the national debt will hit the current limit of $8.18 trillion, requiring Congress to vote for an increase to keep the government operating.

“This budget is just detached from reality. The debt is exploding and the president isn’t facing up to it,” said Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.

The administration has said the deficit for this year will top $400 billion, compared with last year’s $319 billion. The costs of fighting in Iraq and rebuilding the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast have pushed government spending higher than anticipated.

The administration said last week that it would submit a supplemental spending request for an additional $18 billion for hurricane relief for the current budget year, bringing total spending in response to the storms to more than $100 billion.

The administration also will seek an additional $120 billion to help pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year and the early part of 2007. That increase is on top of a nearly 5 percent rise in Pentagon spending to $439.3 billion in Mr. Bush’s budget.

The Homeland Security Department is in line for about a 5 percent increase in its operating budget, not counting the costs of hurricane relief. To offset these costs, the White House is seeking to double a passenger security fee from $2.50 per flight to $5, a proposal Congress rejected last year.

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