- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Democrats told administration officials yesterday that President Bush's $2.1 trillion fiscal 2003 budget proposal is a short-sighted route to long-term deficits that could undermine the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
"I think it's irresponsible to be taking $2 trillion out of the trust funds to pay for other things, and there's no plan here by the administration except to dig the hole deeper," Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, who was testifying before his committee.
But Mr. Daniels said the needs of war, homeland security and a stimulus package have led to deficits this year. Republicans on the committee challenged Democrats to show another way to meet those three needs.
"If you have a better way, I anxiously wait to see what it is," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici from New Mexico, the ranking Republican on the committee.
Mr. Daniels, who also testified before the House Budget Committee, wasn't the only administration official to stump for the president's budget proposal on the Hill yesterday. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to defend the president's military budget requests, and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill appeared before the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.
The president's budget calls for an $80 billion deficit in fiscal 2003 and dips into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
It is now up to the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House to agree on a budget resolution that sets a framework for spending.
Democrats frequently and strenuously stated that they will support the president's requests for military and homeland security, and except for questions about cuts in highway funds and an unspecified $10 billion allocation for military spending, Democrats didn't criticize many particulars in the president's plan for this year. Several supported Mr. Bush's call for short-term deficits to fight the war on terrorism.
"I don't have much disagreement over the budget for this year," Mr. Conrad said. "My great concern is for the long-term, and the fiscal course he has put us on."
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, said the president's budget marks the end of his promises during the campaign and tax debate not to dip into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
Several Democrats told Mr. Daniels that they had warned him last year that the surplus would be smaller than predicted and that Mr. Bush's $1.3 trillion tax cut was too big. They also heavily criticized the administration's dual request for more tax cuts and to make last year's tax cuts permanent about $600 million over a decade.
But Republicans said the vast majority of the tax cuts haven't kicked in yet and that the recession and wartime spending are the primary causes of deficits in the 2003 proposal. Mr. Daniels also challenged Democrats to try to roll back the tax cuts if they believe the cuts are too big.
"You've got many more chances to raise taxes on the American people," he said.
Democrats also tried to connect dipping into Social Security's accounts to fears about retirement security in light of Enron Corp.'s collapse, which emptied some company employees' pension accounts.


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