- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

The Senate yesterday began a tough fight over the Republicans’ proposed $2.4 trillion budget for 2005, with pressure to restore $7 billion in defense spending that would be cut from President Bush’s request.

Democrats, meanwhile, will try to use the budget debate to score election-year points by attacking Mr. Bush’s call to permanently extend his tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003.

“The president has us on a fiscal course that simply does not add up,” said Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, as debate began.

The Senate Republican budget — written by Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma — would cap discretionary spending at $814 billion, which is $9 billion less than Mr. Bush’s request of $823 billion. Mr. Nickles would trim $7 billion from Mr. Bush’s defense request, bringing it to $414 billion, and would trim $2 billion from the rest of Mr. Bush’s domestic-spending request, bringing that to $369 billion.

Mr. Nickles’ budget would fully fund Mr. Bush’s request for homeland security spending at $31 billion.

Republican leaders, who said their defense number is still a notable boost over last year’s level, face a tough task of holding the budget to $814 billion while also trying to placate party members who want more for defense.

“I will oppose any effort to reduce President Bush’s proposed defense budget,” said Sen. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican. A Senate Republican aide whose boss feels the same way said Republican leaders may respond to such pressure by adding $5 billion to the defense number in the current Republican proposal.

Meanwhile, the House Budget panel will vote later this week on its proposed budget.

Mr. Nickles yesterday acknowledged his budget “makes some tough choices.” He warned Democrats and Republicans alike that if they want to raise spending in any particular area, “we’re going to have to reduce spending in other areas to pay for it.”

Democrats are expected to try to boost spending in areas such as port security, first-responders, education and veterans care, and pay for it by letting some of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts expire, Republican aides said.

Mr. Nickles’ budget includes $30 billion in a separate reserve to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan — a cost the administration omitted from its proposal.

Another difference comes on taxes. Mr. Nickles’ budget proposes roughly $144 billion to extend some of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts set to expire in the next five years. Mr. Bush asked for $213 billion for such tax relief during the period, Senate Republican budget aides said.

In a political move to embarrass Republicans, Democrats may offer Mr. Bush’s proposed 2005 budget as an amendment to the Republican proposal, one Democratic aide said.

That would highlight the differences between the Republican proposal and Mr. Bush’s, and force Republicans to defend the president.

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