Bush wants balanced budget by 2012
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush said Wednesday he’ll submit a proposal to balance the budget in five years and exhorted Congress to “end the dead of night process” of quietly tucking expensive pet projects into spending bills.
The president’s spokesman, meanwhile, said Bush would talk in his Jan. 23 State of the Union address about making spending on the Iraq war “as transparent as possible.”
Lawmakers and the independent, bipartisan Iraq Study Group have criticized the Bush administration for funding the war through emergency supplemental bills, instead of including the costs in the administration’s yearly formal budget request for running the government. That means war costs are not included in the administration’s deficit calculations, and are not subject to overall spending caps.
Congress is expected to get another such emergency request soon. The Pentagon says it needs $100 billion more to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of September, adding to the $350 billion the Iraq war alone has so far cost the nation.
White House press secretary Tony Snow stopped short of saying that the administration was considering folding war costs into annual budget requests _ the next due to Congress on Feb. 5 _ as the Iraq Study Group recommended.
But, he said: “We have already been providing larger and larger set asides within the budget for doing that, and I think that you’ll find in the State of the Union that we will move toward making expenditures in Iraq, and in the war on terror generally, including Afghanistan as transparent as possible.”
In the Rose Garden after meeting with his Cabinet, Bush said his new budget “will restrain spending while setting priorities.”
“It will address the most urgent needs of our nation,” he said.
Faced with working with an opposition Congress for the first time of his presidency, Bush welcomed new members of Congress and said he’s anxious to work with them on the nation’s priorities during the remaining two years of his presidency.
“Congress has changed,” Bush added. “Our obligations to the country haven’t changed.”
But in a newspaper opinion piece published Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal, the president also served notice to lawmakers:
“If the Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate,” Bush wrote. “If a different approach is taken, the next two years can be fruitful ones for our nation. We can show the American people that Republicans and Democrats can come together to find ways to help make America a more secure, prosperous and hopeful society.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats ran in the midterms election on a message of compromise, and want to work with Bush.
“We hope that when the president says compromise, it means more than ‘do it my way,’ which is what he’s meant in the past,” Schumer said.
He said fiscal restraint is one area where the executive and legislative branches of government can work together.
“Over the past few years, pro-growth economic policies have generated higher revenues,” Bush said. “Together with spending restraint, these policies allowed us to meet our goal of cutting the budget deficit in half three years ahead of schedule.”
The president’s critics argue that the White House is using sleight of hand when boasting about the deficit.
Bush can rightly state that he has fulfilled his 2004 campaign pledge to cut the deficit in half by the time he leaves office. In fact, he can say he has done it three years early. But in making that claim, the president is using the administration’s original forecast of what the 2004 deficit was expected to be _ not what it actually turned out to be.
Back when Bush made his promise, the administration was predicting that the 2004 deficit would be $521 billion. That prediction turned out to be off by $100 billion. To achieve the feat of slicing the actual 2004 deficit number in half, the federal deficit Bush was highlighting would have to have dropped to $206 billion, not $247.7 billion.
The long-term deficit picture remains bleak.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the deficit for the current budget year, which ends next Sept. 30, will rise to $286 billion. Over the next decade, the office forecasts that the deficit will total $1.76 trillion.
Bush called on Congress to cut by half the number and cost of pet projects prized by lawmakers.
“People want to end the secretive process by which Washington insiders are able to get billions of dollars directed to projects _ many of them pork-barrel projects that have never been reviewed or voted on by the Congress,” he said.
Democrats have already pledged to cut back on the spending, called “earmarks.”
“But we need to do more,” Bush said. “Here’s my own view to end the dead-of-the-night process: Congress needs to adopt real reform that requires full disclosure of the sponsors, the costs, the recipients and the justifications for every earmark.”
According to a Congressional Research Service study, the number of earmarks in spending, or appropriations, bills went from 4,126 in 1994 to 15,877 in 2005. The value of those earmarks doubled to $47.4 billion in the same period. Earmarked projects often include roads, bridges and economic development efforts.
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