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Bush Unveils $3.1 Trillion Federal Budget Proposal for 2009

The Bush administration has unveiled a federal budget for the next year that emphasizes spending to boost national security and spur the economy while reining in costs for government medical assistance programs. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington, the proposed 2009 budget is getting a chilly reception in the Democratically-controlled Congress, which must approve the plan.

President Bush's fiscal year 2009 budget totals a record $3.1 trillion, more than 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and more than the entire GDP of the world's third largest national economy, Germany. It projects a short term spike in the federal deficit to more than $400 billion but envisions eliminating the deficit by 2012.

Speaking at the White House Monday, the president called it a "good, solid budget."

"Our budget protects America and encourages economic growth," he said. "Congress needs to pass it."

The security portion of the budget comes in the form of nearly $600 billion for defense-related activities, including fighting terrorism and strengthening democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more funding for domestic operations, such as nuclear detection and border security. The budget does not, however, cover the full cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are funded under separate legislation.

The 2009 budget includes a $150 billion economic stimulus package negotiated with key congressional leaders, the extension of tax cuts, assistance for homeowners, and increased funding for scientific research, including alternative fuels. It also boosts funding for educational initiatives.

White House Budget Director Jim Nussle says promoting economic growth is vital.

"Continued economic growth is the most critical element of putting together a budget like this," he said. "If you are going to reduce the deficit, of getting back to [fiscal] balance, addressing the long term challenges our country faces, it is crucial to have good, strong, economic growth."

Nussle was asked how it is that President Bush inherited a budget surplus when he entered office in 2001, yet will leave next year having added trillions of dollars to the national debt. Nussle noted that the United States has suffered terrorist attacks and natural disasters that necessitated more government spending than Mr. Bush envisioned when he came to Washington. He said one key to long term fiscal health is to control the costs of entitlement spending in Social Security and government medical programs. He said the president's budget does not cut entitlement spending. Rather, he said, it trims growth to a level the nation can afford, while also limiting other domestic spending.

Presidential budgets are rarely embraced in their original form by opposition-controlled legislatures, particularly in election years. Already, Democratic lawmakers are blasting the budget as miserly when it comes to critical government services and lavish when it comes to increasing America's debt burden.

"Under the Bush administration proposal, they are building a wall of debt," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad. "At the end of his first year, the gross debt of the United States stood at 5.8 trillion [dollars]. If you look at the end of his eight years of responsibility, we see the debt as over $10.4 trillion. That is almost a doubling of the national debt on his watch."

Presidential budgets are normally hefty documents. This year, for the first time, Mr. Bush is sending out the budget in electronic form that members of Congress and the nation can read online.