WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday unveiled a $2.9 trillion spending plan that devotes billions more to fighting the war in Iraq but pinches pennies on programs promised to voters by Democrats now running Congress. Democrats widely attacked the plan and even a prominent Republican conceded it faced bleak prospects.
Bush’s spending plan would make his first-term tax cuts permanent, at a cost of $1.6 trillion over 10 years. He is seeking $78 billion in savings in the government’s big health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid, over the next five years, in part by increasing premiums for higher-income Medicare recipients.
Release of the budget in four massive volumes kicks off months of debate in which Democrats, now in control of both the House and Senate for the first time in Bush’s presidency, made clear that they have significantly different views on spending and taxes.
“The president’s budget is filled with debt and deception, disconnected from reality and continues to move America in the wrong direction,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., said, “I doubt that Democrats will support this budget, and frankly, I will be surprised if Republicans rally around it either.”
Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, agreed with the bleak assessment of Bush’s prospects of getting Congress to approve his budget as proposed.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think it has got a whole lot of legs,” Gregg said, contending there is a wide gulf between the two parties. “The White House is afraid of taxes and the Democrats are afraid of controlling spending,” Gregg said.
The president insisted that he had made the right choices to keep the nation secure from terrorist threats and the economy growing.
“I strongly believe Congress needs to listen to a budget which says no tax increase and a budget, because of fiscal discipline, that can be balanced in five years,” Bush told reporters after meeting with his Cabinet.
Just as Iraq has come to dominate Bush’s presidency, military spending was a major element in the president’s new spending request.
Bush was seeking a Pentagon budget of $624.6 billion for 2008, more than one-fifth of the total budget, up from $600.3 billion in 2007.
For the first time, the Pentagon included details for the upcoming budget year on how much the Iraq war would cost, an estimated $141.7 billion for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the cost of repairing and replacing equipment lost in combat.
But White House spokesman Tony Fratto cautioned that the 2008 projection was likely to change. “We’re not saying the number for ’08 is the final number.”
The Bush budget includes just $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2009 and no money after that year. But the president rejected the suggestion that the administration was setting a timetable for troop withdrawal.
“There will be no timetable set,” Bush told reporters. He said that would send the wrong signal to the enemy, the struggling Iraq democracy and the troops.
Bush projected a deficit in the current year of $244 billion.