[an error occurred while processing this directive]
WASHINGTON -- President Bush will send Congress a $2.23-trillion spending plan today featuring new tax cuts to boost the economy, a conservative tilt to major social programs and record deficits for the next two years -- shortfalls that Democrats blame on Bush's tax cuts.
White House budget officials said Sunday that the tax and spending blueprint, complete with dozens of agency briefings, will roll out as scheduled despite Saturday's space shuttle disaster.
Bush's budget outline for the 2004 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, is required by law to be sent to Congress the first Monday in February. The numbers and spending priorities undoubtedly will change during the next several months as Congress acts on his request.
The Columbia tragedy certainly will prompt added scrutiny to the president's spending proposal for NASA, which has come under heavy criticism from Congress in recent years because of cost overruns for the orbiting space station and other programs.
Total government spending first topped $2-trillion in Bush's first budget in 2002, 15 years after Ronald Reagan gave the country its first $1-trillion federal budget.
Bush's new spending plan, which will set off months of congressional debate, projects that deficits will hit an all-time high in dollar terms: $307-billion for the current fiscal year and $304-billion for 2004, with both years surpassing the previous record of $290-billion set by Bush's father in 1992.
The administration says, however, that this year's deficit will be just 2.8 percent of the overall $10.5-trillion U.S. economy -- far below the 4.7 percent level hit in 1992 and an amount acceptable for an economy struggling to emerge from recession.
But Democrats charge that Bush's $1.35-trillion, 10-year tax cut in 2001 and his new request for an additional $670-billion in tax cuts as part of an economic stimulus program will put the budget on a dangerous downward slide that will rob Social Security of the surpluses it needs to prepare for the retirement of the baby boomers.
The president, mindful of the political price his father paid because of his handling of the economy after winning the Persian Gulf War in 1991 -- he lost the White House in 1992 -- declared in his State of the Union address last week that boosting the economy was his No. 1 goal. He urged Congress to vote without delay for his new stimulus plan.
The tax cut part of his budget, which Bush previewed in a Jan. 7 speech, has run into heavy opposition, especially his idea of eliminating double taxation of investors' stock dividends. That would carry a $364-billion, 10-year price tag, more than half the $674-billion cost of the stimulus plan. Democrats charge the elimination of dividend taxes would provide no boost to the economy this year and would drive government deficits higher in coming years.
The tax plan also would accelerate into this year the rate cuts and $400 boost in the child tax credit that the 2001 tax legislation would have phased in over seven years.
Bush's budget also will seek to overhaul some of the government's biggest social programs. It will propose to spend $400-billion over the next decade to reform Medicare, which provides health care to nearly 40-million elderly Americans, and to offer for the first time a Medicare drug benefit.
Bush also will seek to overhaul Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that provides health care to the poor, offering states $12.7-billion over the next seven years to implement reforms in the program.