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President's Budget Debate Opens in Congress


As President Bush continued his travels to persuade Americans to accept his 2006 budget for the federal government and social security reform plan, Congress began a series of hearings to assess the president's proposals.

Support for and opposition to the $2.5 trillion budget came down along party lines.

Democrats attacked the budget, saying it will hurt poor and middle class Americans and the elderly, and force Americans to shoulder greater debt.

Speaking just after the budget's release Monday, House Democrats called it irresponsible, noting cutbacks in a range of programs in the areas of health, education, housing and the environment.

Members of the president's Republican party were generally supportive, as White House Budget Director Joshua Bolten appeared before the House Budget Committee.

He says tax cuts President Bush pushed through Congress in his first term laid the groundwork for current economic growth the White House believes will continue under the president's plan which seeks to impose discipline:

"What we need to be doing is restraining the growth in our spending at the same time that a growing economy helps bring our budget back toward balance," Mr. Bolten said.

Tom Allen, a Maine Democrat, argues that the budget will place a heavy burden on many Americans.

"I would have hoped that this would be a budget that would help create a stronger, more competitive economy and that is much more than [just] about tax cuts,” he added. “I also believe this budget should have broadened the prosperity in this country, but when I look at it and see that you're proposing new tax cuts for the wealthiest people it's pretty clear it does not do that."

Congressman John Spratt, ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, asserted the Bush administration is presenting a misleading picture by leaving out key costs relating to U.S. military operations in Iraq, and social security reform.

Republicans counter that the reductions in the budget are justified given the economic challenges still facing the nation.

Congressman Patrick McHenry accuses Democrats of hypocrisy when they criticize the president on spending deficits, while complaining about cutbacks in programs they traditionally defend.

"There is this great schizophrenia,” he noted. “They rave that the President is doing horrific things to the budget deficit, and at the same time they are crying foul that the budget is being reduced for non-defense, non-homeland security discretionary spending. They're crying foul that the President would dare look at cutting ineffective programs."

Challenged by Democrats regarding the amount of debt Americans may be taking on in coming years, White House Budget Director Bolton had this response.

"As long as we are growing the economy, faster than we are adding debt to the federal government, as a percent of GDP, I think we're doing a good thing for the federal budget, and interest rates ought to remain low."

But some Republicans are not comfortable with aspects of the budget plan.

Lawmakers representing farm states are upset that the budget proposes to place a limit on subsidies to farmers.

Addressing this issue in remarks to the Detroit Economic Club, President Bush said spending cuts are difficult but necessary.

"These are the kinds of reforms that are necessary to earn the trust of the American people and to bring budget discipline,” said Mr. Bush. “It is essential that those who spend the money in Washington adhere to this principle, a taxpayer dollar ought to be spent wisely or not spent at all."

In assessing the budget, a number of lawmakers had praise for President Bush's funding proposals for key foreign aid programs, such as the Millennium Challenge Account, and his HIV/AIDS initiative for countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.

Republican congressman Jim Kolbe, whose Foreign Operations Committee will examine a request for 16 percent more in foreign assistance, said while the additional money is important to the war on terror among other things, it will require strong justification in light of what he called overall budget pressures.

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