- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

President Bush's proposed budget bears the stamp of the campaign agenda he will run on next year and the chief concerns that voters have about the economy, terrorism, education and health costs.
The annual federal budget is the government's chief financial blueprint, but it is also a strategic political document crafted to appeal to the largest number of voters possible.
This year's budget plan highlights all the major issues that opinion polls show could cause Mr. Bush some trouble next year if the economy does not improve or the United States is hit by another terrorist attack.
Still, with the singular exception of rising spending levels and a burgeoning $300 billion deficit, Mr. Bush's $2.2 trillion budget won cheers from many of his grass-roots supporters
"Conceptually, all of these top items are the things voters have on their minds, and this budget addresses their chief concerns: the economy and jobs, the war on terrorism, education, Medicare and prescription drugs," said pollster John Zogby. "My polls show them running in just about that order. Those are the top four categories."
"It neutralizes the public image of the last few months that it is war with Iraq all the time that preoccupies this president. It is going to make it easier for him to run on domestic issues," Mr. Zogby said.
The budget's proposals to cut income-tax rates this year that are not due to take effect until 2004 and 2006 drew the strongest support from Mr. Bush's political base yesterday and the most criticism from his opponents.
"This budget is constrained by tax cuts," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal advocacy group. "He's trying to give the illusion that he's dealing with issues that the polls tell him are important to people. But his budget does not even fully fund his No Child Left Behind education reforms."
"Many of his proposals are favored by the right wing, like making Medicaid a block grant to the states, which would mean that lots of poor people would lose coverage," he said.
In a line of criticism from the other side of the political spectrum, several of Mr. Bush's allies backed the tax cuts and the spending cuts, but said he could do more to reduce spending.
"We're giving his budget two cheers. First, we certainly like the fact that he's putting tax cuts at the top of the list, which will certainly stimulate the economy, and second, he gets a lot of credit for increasing defense and homeland security, while keeping overall discretionary spending increases to 4 percent," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
"There's some good stuff in it, like freezing the Army Corps of Engineers expenditures and reducing President Clinton's COPS law-enforcement program and moving the money to first responders in the war on terrorism," Mr. Schatz said.
Mr. Bush's budget would either cut or keep last year's spending flat for dozens of domestic agencies and programs, while seeking increases in other domestic programs for veterans benefits, Medicare, homeland security, historically black colleges and universities, and for some foreign-aid programs, such as a $15 billion anti-AIDS offensive in Africa and the Caribbean.
"The tax cuts are terrific, but the nondefense-spending side of the ledger has us concerned, because we think that even the 4 percent limit is too high," said David Keating, executive director of the Club for Growth.
"There are areas, given the post-9/11 world, where we need to increase spending, but in the past decade nondefense discretionary programs have risen by 24 percent in real terms, so there is an awful lot of room to cut back," said John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union.
Federal revenues have doubled since President Reagan left office in 1989, but federal spending has more than doubled, he said. "The message I hear from the grass roots, put simply, is that 'it's the spending, stupid.'"
Many of Mr. Bush's supporters enthusiastically embraced several of his domestic-policy reforms, especially his plan to turn the Medicaid program for the poor over to the state's governors to control costs through management innovations.
"If Bush can pull this off, it will be one of his biggest reforms, similar to the way we changed welfare in the '90s," said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth.

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