WASHINGTON – The conventional wisdom around Washington is that President Bush's budget will be dead on arrival when it gets to Capitol Hill.
But at least it won't be made from a dead tree.
The White House announced Wednesday that it's going paperless when it submits the fiscal 2009 budget Feb. 4. It's a move aimed at saving a few bucks for taxpayers — and the lives of a few trees.
Instead of printing 3,000 free copies of the budget to give out free to the media, lawmakers, the White House and Cabinet, the White House will put the 2,200-page tome online at www.budget.gov.
Jim Nussle, the White House budget director announced the move — appropriately enough — in a statement sent by e-mail to reporters.
"This step will save nearly 20 tons of paper, or roughly 480 trees," Nussle said. "In terms of fiscal savings, we estimate the E-Budget will save nearly a million dollars over the next five years."
Nussle took the step after a few months running the Office of Management and Budget, where hundreds of old budget volumes are gathering dust on bookshelves or are being put to use as platforms for computer monitors. He reads the budget on his computer, where it's searchable.
But Washington is filled with old-school wonks who actually read the budget and refer to it — and want a copy in their offices. One Senate Budget Committee staff aide seemed shocked to learn lawmakers wouldn't get their usual pallet larded with budgets.
On the other hand, even old budget hands are increasingly using their computers instead of their trusty budget books.
"It took me a while, but I've made the transition to the electronic version," said Rich Meade, former staff director of the House Budget Committee, now a lobbyist. "For those who haven't made the transition, it'll be a tough year."
Old-timers will still be able to buy paper copies of the four-volume budget from the Government Printing Office. But at more than $200 per set, there's plenty of incentive to give the electronic copy a try.
"Since when did the Bush White House get e-fiscal discipline?" asked Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. "Let us hope that they send us a budget that is worth the paper it would have been printed on."