- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush says his 2005 budget will balance national security, social needs and fiscal responsibility, but Democrats say his policies have wounded the economy and prompted sky-high federal deficits.

Mr. Bush plans to send Congress tomorrow an election-year budget exceeding $2.3 trillion. Officials revealed new details, including more money to fight AIDS in poor countries, and a spare 0.5 percent increase for nondefense, nondomestic-security programs as part of his effort to halve record deficits by 2009.

“One clear signal we need to send to the American people and the markets is we’re going to be wise when it comes to the expenditure of the people’s money,” Mr. Bush told congressional Republicans yesterday at their retreat in Philadelphia. “And we submitted a budget that says just that.”

With conservatives in his own party angry over what they see as excessive overall spending by the Bush administration, and those frustrations exacerbated by a large uptick in the estimated cost of a new Medicare overhaul, Mr. Bush spent most of his brief remarks to the lawmakers on fiscal restraint. He even singled out health care costs as an area in need of discipline.

“There’s a lot involved in making sure the economy continues to grow. There’s cost containment of health care, controlling the cost of health care to citizens and small businesses, large businesses,” he said.

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush said he will propose a 3.5 percent pay increase for the military and an 11 percent boost in the FBI’s budget, including $357 million more for counterterrorism.

But Democrats scoffed. They were more interested in calling attention to the plan’s red ink, which administration and congressional officials estimated would total $521 billion for this year — easily surpassing the record $375 billion set last year.

Rep. Brad Miller, North Carolina Democrat, delivering the Democrats’ radio response yesterday, challenged Mr. Bush’s claims that the economy has rebounded from recession.

“If President Bush thinks these are good times, I wish he’d been with me when I visited the unemployment office in Rockingham County, North Carolina,” Mr. Miller said. “The parking lot was full. I had to drive around the block and finally parked on the grass.”

Mr. Miller also said that while Democrats support cutting waste from the budget, “Last year President Bush thought health care for veterans was wasteful spending and he put funding for education in that category, too.”

White House budget chief Joshua Bolten journeyed to Philadelphia on Friday to tell Republican senators and representatives meeting there about Mr. Bush’s fiscal plans. But in more than two hours of questions and comments, many lawmakers said they wanted sharper spending reductions than Mr. Bush will propose, participants said.

“There was an expression by a broad spectrum of members … that they were deeply concerned about spending,” said Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican.

Although some Republicans voiced support for deeper spending cuts, others questioned whether there would be enough support — especially in an election year — for holding many popular programs to less than the inflation rate.

Mr. Bolten also faced anger from conservatives over Mr. Bush’s new $534 billion, 10-year cost estimate for the Medicare overhaul, which was enacted weeks ago. That’s one-third more than the projection the administration used while pushing it through Congress.

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