President praises what he plans to slash

Programs that Bush calls key achievements slated for future funding cuts

February 06, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - President Bush's long-term budget plans include deep spending cuts in programs that he's promoting this year on the campaign trail as among his signature achievements.

The president, for instance, trumpeted his "Jobs for the 21st Century" program during a speech in South Carolina yesterday. That program, which Bush said aids states and local communities, falls under funds for training and employment, which his budget proposes to increase by nearly $100 million for fiscal 2005.

But the next year, Bush would cut those funds by $36 million, assuming he wins re-election in November.

Other programs that the president's budget proposes to increase next year, then reduce the following year, include the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program; Pell Grants for higher education; special education; Low Income Home Energy Assistance; and the National Institutes of Health.

Bush's long-range spending plans are detailed in White House budget documents that weren't included in the proposed $2.4 trillion 2005 budget he sent to Congress on Monday.

Knight Ridder obtained a copy of the 1,000-page long-range spending plan, which lays out proposed allocations for government programs over the next five years.

It also forms the basis for the administration's intention to ask Congress for budget caps to set limits on all discretionary spending between 2005 and 2009.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal budget watchdog group that includes many former senior budget officials and is respected for its analyses, has analyzed the five-year spending plan. It concluded that by 2009, funding for domestic discretionary spending other than for defense and homeland security would be $50 billion less than if it merely kept pace with inflation - effectively a $50 billion cut.

"The impact of it is profound," said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the center. "It sort of means that the `starve the beast' scenario of them starting to cut into large numbers of important and popular programs to help finance the tax cuts is now, indeed, beginning to show up in the budget."

Some influential conservative activists, such as anti-tax champion Grover Norquist, say tax cuts eventually will starve the federal government of revenues and force Congress to accept reductions in government agencies and services, a goal that they support.

Bush calls for Congress to make permanent all tax cuts enacted since 2001, which are scheduled to expire in 2011. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently said making them permanent would add $2 trillion to the national debt, which has swollen by almost $1.8 trillion, to $7.5 trillion this year, since Bush took power.

Chad Kolton, a spokesman for the White House budget office, said the long-term budget numbers aren't hard-and-fast guidelines and could change in future budgets.

"Every year we make decisions about priorities. That's what budgets are about," he said. "We can still fund a lot of our budget priorities and still keep spending under control."

But Kolton echoed Bush's comments on the need to restrain spending. The president has promised to cut this year's projected $521 billion federal deficit in half within five years. His 2005 budget proposes to set strict spending limits, or caps, that would require Congress to offset any spending increase with an equivalent cut to prevent overall spending growth.

"You have to keep spending controlled if we're going to cut the deficit in half," Kolton said.

Budget director Josh Bolton told Congress this week that the president is committed to the idea of caps. "He's quite serious about it," Bolton told the House Budget Committee.

Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, said caps are probably a good idea "to get this thing [spending] back on track, " but he favors two-year caps set by Congress.

"I'm just increasingly disillusioned with the administration," Conrad said. "It seems like they just can't play it straight. It's all hide-the-ball. It's all things that sound as though they're plausible but then don't stand up under any scrutiny."

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