WASHINGTON – Democrats attacked President Bush on Tuesday for putting forward a $2.57 trillion spending plan that they charged left out huge costs for the Iraq war, Social Security (search) and tax cuts just so the administration could claim it was on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.
Treasury Secretary John Snow (search) and Joshua Bolten (search), head of the president's budget office, faced hostile questions from Democrats as the administration kicked off its congressional sales campaign for Bush's 2006 spending plan.
Rep. John Spratt, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, told Bolten that the Bush budget "paints a misleading picture by providing no deficit figures after 2010 and by omitting the full long-term costs of the President's policies on Social Security privatization, taxes, and operations in Iraq."
Spratt said the $1.8 trillion in deficits the administration is projecting over the next six years will more likely total over $4 trillion in the next 10 years if the true costs of the Iraq war, overhauling Social Security and making the tax cuts permanent were included.
Bolten agreed that the deficit would increase in 2009 and 2010 if Social Security transition costs had been included. But he said that the deficits in those years would be about 1.7 percent of the total economy, which would still meet the president's goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009.
Under that calculation, the deficit in 2009 would total around $260 billion, compared to the administration's projection in the budget released Monday of $233 billion.
Snow heard criticism from Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., that the administration was failing to reach out to Democrats in Congress to achieve a bipartisan solution to Social Security.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said the administration needed to realize that "very few" Democrats in the House were willing to even admit that there was an urgent problem in Social Security.
Snow urged Congress to move forward in debating various ways to shore up Social Security, but he said the administration remained opposed to raising payroll taxes to deal with the shortfall in the government's largest benefit program.
He also urged Congress to pass Bush's plan to make his first-term tax cuts permanent, which carry a price tag of $1.1 trillion through 2014.
Rep. Pete Starke, D-Calif., said that the administration's insistence on protecting tax cuts which primarily benefited the wealthy showed Bush's flawed priorities.
"Your plan is to cut benefits for Social Security recipients and cut taxes for the rich. That doesn't seem very fair," Starke told Snow.
The first round of hearings set the tone for what is likely to be months of contentious debate as Congress works its way toward a budget for the fiscal year that begins next Oct. 1.
Bush had defended the spending blueprint on Monday, saying, "It's a budget that focuses on results."
The president was traveling to Detroit on Tuesday to promote his agenda for economic prosperity, which includes budgetary restraint, tax cuts, deregulation and free trade.
Bush sent his massive multivolume set of spending documents, trimmed in bright blue, to Congress on Monday, saying the new budget focused on his priorities while targeting 150 government programs for either outright elimination or drastic reductions, including Amtrak passenger train subsidies and grants to communities for hiring police officers.
In the most tightfisted budget of his presidency, Bush proposed giving nine of 15 Cabinet-level agencies less money in 2006 than they are getting this year. And overall non-security domestic spending -- excluding such automatic benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare -- would be reduced by 0.7 percent next year.
Bush said this was the first outright cut in this wide swath of government programs proposed by any president since Ronald Reagan.
Republicans, while generally endorsing Bush's approach, noted that Congress will have its own opinions about what spending priorities to set. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., called the administration's plan "a good starting point for the Congress to begin its work."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., conceded that "obviously this is a budget that is going to create some significant angst among my colleagues." But he praised the administration for producing a budget of "fiscal responsibility" that would call Republicans "back to our roots."
Democrats, however, were less kind, accusing Bush of budgetary sleight of hand to keep some huge costs out of the budget.
While the administration has said that it will request $81 billion in new spending for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan within a few days and will have to come back to Congress for more money in 2006, new money for the two military operations in the two countries was omitted for 2006 and beyond.
Likewise, the administration's top domestic priority, overhauling Social Security by creating private investment accounts, was kept out of the budget even though the administration has already estimated that transition costs for the first decade will total $754 billion.
In both cases, the administration said not enough was known about future needs in Iraq or the ultimate shape of Bush's Social Security proposal to come up with realistic budget estimates.