Bush Priorities Come Under Democratic Attack

After submitting the largest budget in federal government history, including increases in spending on education and some health programs, President Bush faced strong resistance from Democrats who were critical of his priorities.

"This may be the first budget in history that wasn't just dead on arrival — it was dead before arrival," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Monday after Bush had sent his five-volume set of budget documents to Congress.

However, Mitchell Daniels, the president's budget director, declared the Bush budget "alive and well," and said the administration would continue to work with the Senate to achieve its goals.

Bush's spending plan for the 2002 budget year that begins Oct. 1 proposes spending $1.96 trillion, a 5.6 percent increase over projected spending of $1.86 trillion this year. And Bush said his budget would produce a surplus of $231 billion in fiscal year 2002.

It contains significant increases for defense, education and health research as the president followed through on campaign pledges to boost those areas.  The Education Department alone will see an increase of 11.5 percent, the largest increase for any agency.

In terms of budget authority for basic government programs, covering everything from paperclips to nuclear submarines, Bush is proposing a 4 percent increase to $660.6 billion. That does not count mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The Senate last week, however, voted for an almost 8 percent increase in discretionary programs, close to the 8.6 percent increase in these programs authorized by former President Bill Clinton.

To achieve his spending restraint, Bush targeted dozens of federal programs for budget cuts, including proposals to reduce funds for urban police patrols, energy conservation, pediatrician training and tax credits for distressed areas.

Bush told reporters at the White House on Monday that he believed his budget represented "compassionate conservatism" that focused on programs that were working while eliminating wasteful spending and targeting redundant federal programs.

Bush said his administration was also going after thousands of programs that had been inserted by members of Congress to benefit their districts.

"This budget funds our needs without the fat," Bush declared.

However, Democrats in Congress saw things differently. They accused Bush of going far beyond attacking pork-barrel spending and putting the needs of the low-income American in jeopardy to make room for his tax cut.

"Aside from a huge tax cut for his rich friends, this budget doesn't allow nearly enough money for priorities like education, health care, clean water or a safe environment,'' House Democratic Whip David Bonior of Michigan said. 

A Wall Street Journal examination of the budget's historical tables reveals that income taxes amount to 10.4% of U.S. income, greater than at any point since World War II and that federal government taxes take 20.7% of GDP, comparable to the 20.9% of GDP in 1944.

And some on Capitol Hill see a major battle in the conference committee negotiations to reconcile the Senate's higher spending and trimmed-down tax proposal with the House's resolution, which accepted the full $1.6 trillion tax cut over 10 years and Bush's spending constraints.

Approval of a budget resolution will be taken up after Congress returns from a two-week recess. After that, both chambers will focus on the specific spending bills Congress will have to pass to implement the new budget.

The administration, in releasing the budget on Monday, relied on the economic assumptions it has used in February to project a total surplus over the next 10 years of $5.64 trillion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.