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Bush budget meets disdain on Hill

Associated Press
Published February 6, 2008


WASHINGTON - Top administration officials were on Capitol Hill Tuesday defending President Bush's $3.1-trillion budget plan in the face of complaints by Democrats that it adds about $760-billion to U.S. debt and doesn't pay for the war in Iraq.

Democrats on two Senate panels tossed brickbats at Bush's budget, and some key Republicans criticized it as well. Lawmakers made it plain that they would ignore the president's proposals to cut Medicare and Medicaid spending.

At the Senate Budget Committee, White House budget chief Jim Nussle put in a combative performance, returning criticism of Bush's budget with attacks on lawmakers for not fully funding his long-pending war request and challenging them to join Bush in curbing the rapid growth of benefit programs.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., slammed the budget for piling $761-billion in debt onto the government's books, both in bonds held by investors at home and abroad and IOUs in the Social Security trust funds.

"The debt has done nothing under this president's watch but skyrocket," Conrad said.

"Then let's open up mandatory spending," Nussle shot back, referring to the spiraling growth of benefit programs like Medicare.

Top panel Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire again criticized the Bush blueprint for having "some serious flaws from the standpoint of accuracy and even more serious flaws from the standpoint of policy." But he also attacked Democrats for assuming phony revenue boosts when passing a congressional budget plan last year.

A few floors below at the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxes and Medicare, the atmosphere was more sedate, but the Bush budget plan wasn't faring any better.

"A good budget must be realistic," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said at a hearing featuring Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Baucus, Finance Committee chairman, said key aspects of the Bush budget - proposed cuts in health programs, making Bush's tax cuts permanent and omitting war costs in predicting a budget surplus by 2012 - failed that test.

Democrats said the White House's projection that the budget deficit will hit $410-billion this year and $407-billion in 2009, just under the $413-billion record set four years ago, was overly optimistic.

Not really new?

Although the budget submitted by President Bush is the first to call for spending $3-trillion, it is not expected to be the first year in which spending topped that amount. Last year, Bush proposed $2.9-trillion for the current budget year, but the administration now estimates that spending in fiscal 2008 will also exceed $3-trillion.

[Last modified February 6, 2008, 00:43:58]

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