WASHINGTON – Democrats criticized President Bush's fiscal priorities on Tuesday, accusing him of shortchanging schools and domestic security while pushing tax cuts they say will go mostly to the wealthy.
A week after Bush unveiled the details of his $674 billion, 10-year economic growth plan, his aides and congressional Republicans defended it as a formula for reviving the economy and creating jobs. The give and take provided an early look at the rhetoric both sides are likely to employ during this year's budget fight.
"We find this all the more egregious, cutting homeland security, cutting education while the president espouses a 'Leave No Millionaire Behind Act,' its so-called economic stimulus package," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters.
Nearly half of Bush's proposed tax cut would come from eliminating taxes investors pay on corporate dividends. The joint Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center estimated that 42 percent of these savings would go to wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer cited the low inflation and interest rates that have triggered waves of refinancing in recent months. But he reiterated the administration's dissatisfaction with employment data: The country lost 101,000 jobs last month, and the jobless rate remained at an eight-year high of 6 percent.
"Because of unemployment, the president wants to make sure that we're taking every step possible to help protect the economy and provide jobs for people," Fleischer said.
GOP senators also awaited debate on a $385 billion measure financing nearly the entire federal government for the duration of the current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30. Only two of this year's 13 annual spending bills have been enacted, both covering the military.
Debate on the legislation, and most of the chamber's work, has been delayed as party leaders squabble over committee budgets for the new Congress. GOP leaders had hoped the Senate would approve the omnibus spending bill this week, but prospects for that have become bleak.
The huge package would spend about $12 billion more than last year, not including one-time emergencies like costs of rebuilding lower Manhattan from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said White House budget office spokeswoman Amy Call.
"It's time for Congress to finish their work," she said.
Measured another way, the Republican bill would provide $9.8 billion less than Democrats proposed when they wrote the bills last year. Those measures never became law, and most federal agencies have been operating on temporary authority -- at last year's spending levels -- since October.
The GOP bill would provide $1.5 billion less than Democrats planned for education, and $500 million less for homeland security programs. Democrats have favored $6 billion to help farmers and ranchers battered by drought last summer, but Republicans have been looking at a smaller figure that would exceed $1 billion.
The National Institutes of Health, whose budget both parties have wanted to double over the past five years, would get a $3.7 billion increase over last year's levels to $27.2 billion. That is $33 million less than Democrats proposed.