WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) is bracing for a difficult election-season fight with Congress over spending after a budget year that he can hardly expect to top.
Bush sends lawmakers his 2005 budget on Monday. But only last week, Congress completed its spending work for 2004, which saw Bush win virtually all his major priorities including a tax cut, new Medicare (search) prescription drug coverage, funds to fight a war with Iraq, and overall spending restraint.
"He wanted a carpet that looked like X, and generally speaking he got a carpet that looked like X," said Richard Kogan, who analyzes the budget for the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Republican-run Congress avoided overt clashes with Bush but did not roll over completely.
Lawmakers trimmed his defense plans while boosting funds for highways, Amtrak and veterans. They ignored Bush's plan to make tax cuts permanent, scaled back his proposal to stop taxing corporate dividends, derailed his energy bill and added thousands of home-district projects to spending measures.
Even so, the results were a far cry from the "dead on arrival" label applied to the spending blueprints of some of Bush's recent predecessors. Democrats and moderate Republicans often gave that assessment to plans written by the first President Bush and President Reagan (search), who were forced to accept both tax and spending increases.
On the other hand, despite the GOP takeover of Congress two years into his tenure, President Clinton (search) won frequent spending concessions from lawmakers wary of battling him. Bush has followed a similar pattern.
"It would be hard to say he's not getting what he wants," Stan Collender, a senior vice president who follows the budget for the accounting firm Fleischman-Hillard.
Bush has yet to cast a veto after three years in office. He often uses the threat of a veto to get his way, issuing 19 as Congress considered the 13 annual spending bills for this year. In the end, lawmakers dropped challenges on issues like administration plans to change overtime pay rules and divert more government work to private contractors.
Conservatives are not completely happy. Six of this year's 10 domestic spending bills cost more than Bush proposed, according to House Appropriations Committee figures. The conservative Citizens Against Government Waste estimates all 13 bills had more than 10,000 "earmarks" for home-district projects.
"This administration has been unwilling to fight those battles," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Administration officials cite Bush's victories on defense, domestic security, taxes, Medicare and overall spending restraint.
"Taken collectively, they are a very impressive record for a given year," said Chad Kolton, spokesman for the White House budget office.
In a bid for conservatives' support, Bush's new budget will propose holding spending for nondefense, nondomestic security programs to an increase of about 0.5 percent.
Major priorities Bush proposed last year included:
• Tax reductions of $1.3 trillion over 10 years. The bill he signed had $330 billion in tax cuts. That number is expected to grow should lawmakers, as anticipated, make some of its temporary reductions permanent. Congress added $20 billion he did not seek for financially strapped states.
• $400 billion over a decade for revamping Medicare and adding prescription drug coverage. Bush last month signed a bill resembling his proposal.
• $87 billion this year for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $500 million less than he got. The final bill gave him $1.7 billion less than the $18.6 billion he wanted to rebuild Iraq and less flexibility than he wanted for controlling the money.
• Holding Congress' 13 annual spending bills plus the $87 billion war package to a total of $876 billion, according to the House Appropriations Committee. The final bills totaled $873 billion — 3.2 percent over the 2003 total. The bills cover all spending but Social Security and other automatically paid benefits.
• $371.8 billion for the Pentagon spending bill, $3.6 billion more than he got. Lawmakers shifted money from operating accounts to weapons acquisition.
• $28.4 billion for the Homeland Security Department. Congress approved $29.2 billion, adding funds for state and local emergency agencies and port safety.
• $890 million to heighten steps against bioterrorism, which Congress approved.
• Creation of a fund, including $1.3 billion for this year, for countries encouraging democratic institutions. He got $1 billion.
• $2 billion to combat AIDS and other diseases in Africa and the Caribbean. He got $2.4 billion.
• $12.4 billion for low-income school districts and $1 billion for Reading First, part of his "No Child Left Behind" education initiative. He got those amounts. He proposed $9.5 billion for special education and got $10.1 billion.
• $28.6 billion for veterans' health care, to which Congress added $1 billion.
• $900 million for Amtrak, the federally subsidized passenger railroad. Congress approved $1.2 billion.
• $29.3 billion for highway projects, to which Congress added $4.5 billion.