- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Senate Democrats said yesterday they would fight President Bush's budget proposals for more tax relief and smaller domestic spending, but they offered no solutions to deficits.

"This is going to be a long, drawn-out process," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said of the looming budget showdown with the White House. "It is not going to go quickly."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the president's budget "digs a deep, long-term fiscal hole."

"Sadly, the biggest victims of this budget are the people who depend on the government for their retirement security," said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

Republicans and Democrats alike pledged to support fully Mr. Bush's proposals for huge increases for the Pentagon and for homeland security.

"It's a budget that will win the war, fight terrorism and end the recession," said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican.

But a proposed budget deficit of $80 billion, coupled with the president's call for $591 billion in further tax relief, set the stage for partisan fights in this election year over protecting Social Security.

Owing mostly to the recession and the war on terrorism, the administration's budget shows the 10-year federal surplus shrinking from the $5.6 trillion anticipated in May to about $1.6 trillion.

Democrats blamed most of the vanished surplus on the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut approved last spring, and they vowed to fight Mr. Bush's plan to extend those tax cuts beyond their 10-year expiration date. They made clear they would push for more than the 2 percent increase in social programs that Mr. Bush envisioned.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the budget "clearly demonstrates" that the country cannot afford last year's "enormous tax cuts" and the new security demands brought on by September 11 without ignoring domestic needs.

"Whatever the merits of last year's tax bill at the time it was enacted, those circumstances clearly no longer exist," Mr. Kennedy said. "We cannot meet these demands and afford such an enormous tax cut without raiding Social Security and Medicare. The magnitude of the administration planned raid on Social Security is truly shocking."

Other Democratic leaders made it clear they would not propose tax increases this year, nor were they looking to trim Mr. Bush's budget.

"We're not going to raise taxes in the midst of an economic downturn," Mr. Conrad said.

Asked at a news conference to explain how Democrats would balance the budget, Mr. Conrad replied, "This press conference is not to talk about our budget plan. That will be in the days ahead."

Mr. Nussle said a freeze of the administration's tax cuts proposed by Mr. Kennedy and others is "a non-starter."

"That is not going to be part of our budget," Mr. Nussle said.

Mr. Conrad agreed that the president "is going to get" his proposed increases of $48 billion for the Pentagon and tens of billions more for homeland security.

"Our first obligation is to defend our nation," Mr. Conrad said.

Republicans and Democrats alike seem ready to swallow the administration's proposed $80 billion deficit for fiscal 2003, which begins Oct. 1.

"This is not a budget for bookkeepers," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican. "It is a budget for security and victory."

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