- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush will send Congress a $2.9 trillion spending request today that seeks billions of dollars more to fight the Iraq war and tries to restrain the spiraling cost of the government’s big health care programs.

Responding to the new political realities of a Democrat-controlled Congress, Mr. Bush will propose balancing the budget in five years, matching a goal put forward by Democratic leaders. But Mr. Bush would achieve that feat while protecting his cherished first-term tax cuts.

The arrival of the massive four-volume set of green budget books, which will cover the budget year that begins Oct. 1, will be followed by months of debate in Congress. Democrats charged that Mr. Bush wants to make painful cuts across a wide swath of government programs to protect his tax cuts and to keep funneling money to the unpopular Iraq war.

“It just gives you sticker shock. Every time you turn around, it’s another $100 billion,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said of Mr. Bush’s war spending.

The federal deficit hit an all-time high under Mr. Bush of $413 billion in 2004. It has been declining since that time and the 2008 budget projects it will continue to decline and show a surplus in 2012, three years after Mr. Bush leaves office.

To accomplish those reductions, Mr. Bush would allow only modest growth in the government programs outside of defense and homeland security. He is proposing eliminations or sharp reductions in 141 government programs, for a savings over five years of $12 billion, although Congress has rejected many of the same proposals over the past two years.

Mr. Bush also will seek to trim spending on farm subsidies by $18 billion over five years, mainly by reducing payments to wealthier farmers, an effort certain to spark resistance among farm-state lawmakers.

The president’s budget would achieve nearly $100 billion in savings over five years by trimming increases in Medicare, the health insurance program for 43 million retirees and disabled, and Medicaid which provides health care to the poor.

The president appealed for Democratic support during an appearance at a House Democrats’ retreat on Saturday, saying the government must do something to restrain the soaring costs of costs of entitlement spending on health care and Social Security before the looming retirement of 78 million baby boomers.

“I’m under no illusions of how hard it’s going to be,” he told the Democrats. “The only thing I want to share with you is my desire to see if we can’t work together to get it done.”

For the first time, Mr. Bush will spell out details of the spending requests for Iraq and Afghanistan in the budget books. Previously, he has lumped that spending into supplemental requests with less detail.

Mr. Bush said he would ask for an additional $100 billion for Iraq and the global war on terrorism this year, on top of $70 billion already sought. For 2008, that spending would drop to $145 billion and fall to $50 billion in 2009, although administration officials conceded that the 2008 and 2009 requests could go higher depending on the progress of the war effort.

As in past years, the Pentagon is scheduled to get a hefty increase in spending authority of 11 percent, pushing its 2008 budget to $481.4 billion.

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