WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has told officials who oversee federal education, domestic security, veterans and other programs to prepare preliminary 2006 budgets that would cut spending after the presidential election, according to White House documents.
The programs facing reductions — should President Bush be re-elected in November — would also include the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department.
Many of the targeted programs are widely popular. Cuts could carry a political price for a president who has touted his support for schools, the environment and other domestic initiatives.
A spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget said the documents, obtained by The Associated Press, contained routine procedural guidelines so officials could start gathering data about their needs for 2006.
Decisions about spending levels "won't be made for months," said the spokesman, J.T. Young. "It doesn't mean we won't adequately fund our priorities."
Democrats said the papers showed the pressures that a string of tax cuts Bush has won from Congress have heaped onto the rest of the budget.
"The only way we can even begin to pay for these huge tax cuts is by imposing cuts on critical government services," said Thomas Kahn, Democratic staff director of the House Budget Committee.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., in a teleconference set up by Democratic presidential contender John Kerry's campaign, called it the end of an administration "hide the ball" budget strategy.
"The ball is now out for everyone to see," Graham said. "The only thing that's left in place is the part of the ball that is labeled 'tax cuts for my rich friends.'"
A May 19 memorandum from the White House budget office to agencies said they should assume 2006 spending levels specified in an internal administration database that accompanied the 2005 budget that Bush proposed in February. The government's 2006 budget year begins Oct. 1, 2005.
"If you propose to increase funding above that level for any account, it must be offset within your agency" by cuts in other accounts "so that, in total, your request does not exceed the 2006 level assumed for the agency," the memo read in part.
The memorandum and portions of the internal database were obtained by The Associated Press from congressional officials who requested anonymity. The officials read other portions of the database to a reporter.
Congress is just beginning to consider the 2005 federal budget, which will total about $2.4 trillion. About two-thirds of it covers automatically paid benefits like Social Security, and the remainder — which Congress must approve annually — covers agency spending.
According to the database, that one-third of the budget would grow from the $821 billion Bush requested for 2005 to $843 billion in 2006, or about 2.7 percent.
But that includes defense and foreign aid spending, which are both slated for increases due in part to wars and the battle against terrorism.
The remaining amount — for domestic spending — would drop from $368.7 billion in 2005 to $366.3 billion in 2006. Though that reduction would be just 0.7 percent, it does not take into account inflation or the political consequences of curbing spending for popular programs.
"Continuing the strategy of last year's budget, the 2006 budget will constrain ... spending while supporting national priorities: winning the war on terror, protecting the homeland and strengthening the economy," the memorandum said.
The documents show spending for:
— Domestic security at the Homeland Security Department and other agencies would go from $30.6 billion in 2005 to $29.6 billion in 2006, a 3 percent drop.
— The Education Department would go from $57.3 billion in 2005 to $55.9 billion in 2006, 2.4 percent less.
— The Veterans Affairs Department would fall 3.4 percent from $29.7 billion in 2005 to $28.7 billion.
— The Environmental Protection Agency would drop from $7.8 billion in 2005 to $7.6 billion, or 2.6 percent.
— The National Institutes of Health, which finances biomedical research and had its budget doubled over a recent five-year period, would fall from $28.6 billion to $28 billion, or 2.1 percent.
— The Interior Department would fall 1.9 percent from $10.8 billion in 2005 to $10.6 billion.
— The Defense Department would grow 5.2 percent to $422.7 billion in 2006, and the Justice Department would increase 4.3 percent to $19.5 billion in 2006.