WASHINGTON – President Bush will propose squeezing substantial savings next year from domestic programs, giving them less than the 2.3 percent increase they would need to keep pace with inflation (search), the White House budget director said Thursday.
Joshua Bolten provided no other figures or examples. But from his description, it was possible that such programs — from buying parkland to training unemployed workers — would get no more than the $391 billion the White House says they are receiving this year, or even less.
"You will see even more so in this budget than in the past, a focus on those (domestic programs) that are indeed federal priorities and delivering results," Bolten said in an interview.
Those programs that the administration thinks are performing poorly "are more likely to be reduced in this budget," Bolten said.
The proposal, part of what will be one of the tightest budgets in years, comes as Bush is projecting a $427 billion deficit for 2005, the third consecutive record shortfall in dollar terms. He has pledged to reduce deficits (search) to $260 billion by 2009.
In other budget news:
—Bolten said that when the administration releases its new budget on Monday, they will show how much Bush's plan for reshaping Social Security (search) will cost, but only for the last years of this decade. He offered no detail. Bush's Social Security proposal would not begin until 2009.
—Administration officials said Bush will propose combining 18 community development programs and cut their total spending by more than $1 billion. The largest is the $4.7 billion community development block grant, which assists more than 1,000 communities per year. Also affected are efforts for rural housing and economic improvements for Indian tribes.
A spending plan as tight as Bolten described would probably lead to a vigorous battle with Congress this year. Though House and Senate Republican leaders have voiced support for curbing spending, many legislators, including some Republicans, are very protective of favorite initiatives.
The new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said he wanted his committee to be "a preserver of dollars" and to help reduce spending growth. But he cautioned that if the administration aimed its cuts at programs sponsored by members of Congress and not by the White House, "that's not good enough."
Such a budget would put large numbers of popular programs for schools and families "in the danger zone," said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. "There's only so much you can squeeze out of programs."
In his State of the Union speech Wednesday night, Bush said his budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 would propose eliminating or substantially cutting more than 150 programs.
In last year's budget, Bush proposed eliminating 65 programs - mostly for education, housing, environment, and commerce_ for $4.9 billion in savings, and cutting 63 others.
Bolten said Bush would propose "substantially more savings" this year. Congressional aides said they expected this year's list to be similar to last year's.
Underscoring the difficulty of pushing such plans through Congress, only four of the 65 programs that Bush proposed to erase were actually eliminated while 20 others were cut, according to the House Appropriations Committee.
Bush sends his 2006 budget to Congress on Monday; the spending plan is expected to total about $2.5 trillion.
In his speech Wednesday, Bush said he would hold overall "discretionary" programs to growth below the inflation rate. The White House says those programs, which Congress must approve annually, cost $823 billion this year.
Bolten said Thursday that within that total, Bush would propose defense and domestic security increases exceeding the projected 2.3 percent inflation rate. Because those two areas totaled $431 billion this year — more than half of all discretionary spending — that would hold remaining domestic programs to a much lower rate of growth, if they expand at all.
Among domestic programs, Bush is considered likely to propose increases for education, veterans health care and other widely popular initiatives. That would leave even less money for the remaining programs.
"The budget will focus on results," Bolten said.