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Opposition Democrats Give Bush Budget Chilly Reception


The $2.9 trillion federal budget President Bush sent to Congress on Monday is receiving a chilly reception from majority Democrats. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on Democratic criticisms on domestic and foreign matters, as well as reaction from minority Republicans.

This is the first time the president's budget has faced a Congress in which the House and the Senate are controlled by Democrats vowing to take a close look at his spending plan.

At nearly $3 trillion, it seeks at least $78 billion in savings over five years by limiting growth in popular and politically sensitive Medicare and Medicaid programs, while assuming congressional action to make tax cuts permanent.

Sharply criticized by Democrats and by Republican fiscal conservatives for deficit spending, the president projects his plan will eventually lead to a surplus by the year 2012.

Congressman John Spratt, who chairs the House Budget Committee, says a realistic look at the budget shows it leads the nation deeper into debt. "What we are seeing with this budget when you look at it realistically, is it is really not something new and different, not a new-found commitment to fiscal responsibility, but more of the same," he said.

Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad sums up his view of the president's proposals. "Like the previous proposals of this president, I would characterize this proposal as filled with debt and deception, it is disconnected from reality, and it continues to move America in the wrong direction," he said.

But the president's budget director, Rob Portman, calls the document "good news" for the American people. "It is a credible and more transparent budget. Instead of painting a rosy scenario on revenues to get to balance, we take a cautious approach. We have shown full war costs for the rest of this administration, and some of 2009. We have also included these war costs as war supplementals as part of the budget this year, in a more transparent, timely and comprehensive way than ever before," he said.

Portman refers to the $141 billion the administration has requested for Iraq and Afghanistan operations for the 2008 fiscal year beginning in October.

But the president has also asked for $93 billion for what is called "emergency" funding, which combined with other funds approved last year pushes spending on Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 to about $163 billion.

That is "an enormous sum", in the view of Democratic Congressman Ike Skelton, who vows to use his Armed Services Committee to subject the budget to close scrutiny.

House Republican responses focused on what they called "common sense" proposals in the president's plan, while opposing tax increases and urging Democrats to work for bipartisan compromises as the budget process plays out.

On the foreign affairs portion of the budget, the new Democratic head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Tom Lantos, faults the plan for under-funding U.S. contributions to United nations peacekeeping operations in Sudan, Congo, Liberia, Haiti and Lebanon.

The annual budget exercise now begins in earnest, as congressional committees call Bush administration officials to defend their portions of the spending plan.

This week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, among others, are going before House panels which are also examining such issues as waste of U.S. funds designated for reconstruction in Iraq.

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