- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

President Bush’s 2005 budget proposes less funding for the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, while giving big boosts to defense and homeland security spending.

Overall, the budget reduces discretionary funding for seven of the 16 Cabinet-level agencies, in order to hold non-defense and non-homeland security spending to less than a 1 percent increase.

“This is a lean budget when it comes to domestic spending,” said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth. “The problem is that without any enforcement, it becomes truly just a paper tiger.”

It does cut some programs the administration says were wasteful or ineffective, including the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Hope IV program, which was charged with revitalizing severely distressed public housing. The administration said the program was slow at completing its job and more costly than other alternatives.

“Most agencies would feel a freeze or slight decrease under the president’s budget,” said Brian M. Riedl, federal budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, one of several conservative groups that have criticized the administration for spending at twice the rate of its predecessors.

Mr. Moore said the real test of the budget will be whether Mr. Bush will “be the enforcer,” and veto any spending bill that exceeds the limits he has set — something he hasn’t done in the past.

“This White House has shown that it’s willing to talk the talk on fiscal restraint, but they haven’t walked the walk,” Mr. Moore said.

As a way to step up enforcement, Mr. Bush proposes in his budget legislation that would mandate limits.

Mr. Riedl said he isn’t sure this will pass Congress, but chances are “better” than last year because more lawmakers want such reform.

The first real test for Mr. Bush — which conservative budget analysts will watch closely — will come on a transportation bill that Congress will deal with soon. The president proposes $256 billion over six years for improving highways and transit systems, but the House bill is about $375 billion and the Senate equivalent is more than $300 billion as well, a House Republican aide said.

Under the proposal, the Department of Agriculture discretionary funding would decrease about 8 percent to $19.1 billion, and the EPA’s would decrease 7.2 percent to $7.8 billion.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department would see a 7 percent increase in discretionary funding to $402 billion, and the State Department would get a 10.7 percent increase, bringing it to $10.3 billion.

“The president is committed to spending what is necessary to provide for our security — and restraining spending elsewhere,” the administration’s budget overview states.

Among the big winners, Mr. Bush proposes $3 billion over five years to promote traditional marriage, $2.8 billion to combat AIDS around the world, and $2.5 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account, which helps developing countries that demonstrate certain policies, like support for open markets.

The budget would give the National Aeronautics and Space Administration roughly a $900 million increase, and refocus it on exploring the moon and then pushing on to Mars in the coming decades. NASA’s earth science program would see a slight decline.

The Defense Department’s budget would include $10.3 billion for missile defense, and $69 billion to improve battlefield technology.

The budget would give the Homeland Security Department a $3.6 billion increase over 2004 funding, including $890 million for aviation security and $450 million to protect the borders.

The Education Department would get $57.3 billion in discretionary funding under the budget — a 3 percent increase over 2004. Some education programs would still feel a squeeze, however, including level funding of a program to help poor schools in rural areas that don’t have much tax revenue because they pull from military bases or Indian reservations.

The president again asked Congress to make his tax cuts permanent — which would cost an estimated $849 billion over 10 years. But Mr. Bush opposes extending one of those tax breaks, designed to help businesses. He also proposes roughly $186 billion in new tax relief over the next 10 years, including a refundable tax credit to help people buy health insurance.

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