White House

Defense spending jumps under Bush's $2.9 trillion budget

WASHINGTON—President Bush's proposed 2008 federal budget landed with a thud Monday on Capitol Hill as Democrats prepared to rewrite his $2.9 trillion spending plan.

Setting the stage for a potentially bitter struggle over priorities, Democrats said Bush's proposal tilted too much toward war, national security and tax cuts. His request includes $174 billion for Iraq through 2008, which would bring the total spent on that conflict to more than $500 billion.

Add Afghanistan, and U.S. taxpayers would have spent $662 billion on both wars through next year.

The war costs would contribute to a record $624 billion spending package for the Pentagon next year, with generous support for big weapons systems.

The president would squeeze spending on most everything else.

But for the first time since he has been president, Bush sent his budget to a Congress that Democrats controlled, and they made it clear that they didn't much like it.

"I doubt that Democrats will support this budget, and frankly, I will be surprised if Republicans rally around it either," said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., the chairman of the House Budget Committee.

"The day of the blank check for the president for the war is over," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Bush's spending priorities were "disconnected from the needs of middle-class Americans."

The president's plan would permanently extend tax reductions that now are set to expire in 2010, a change that would reduce anticipated tax revenues by $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years. Democrats oppose him on that, too.

Even with the lost tax revenue, the president said his spending blueprint would lead to a balanced federal budget in 2012. He projected a $239 billion deficit at the end of fiscal 2008, down from a projected $244 billion for this year.

Even some leading Republicans were skeptical.

"Quite honestly, Humpty Dumpty could reach balance in the next five years" using the assumptions that Bush made, said Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

The president's budget would boost spending on national security by 6 percent, while holding domestic programs other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to a 1 percent increase, well below the current 2.5 percent annual inflation rate.

Bush proposed to trim the growth of spending on Medicare by restricting payments to health-care providers and charging wealthy beneficiaries higher premiums. That would save an estimated $66 billion over five years, though Democrats aren't likely to go along.

The budget would touch average Americans in myriad ways.

Vacationers might find better facilities at national parks as a result of the president's plan to boost spending for park improvements.

Amtrak train riders would pay more if Congress approves his plan to phase out federal subsidies, although that doesn't seem likely.

Tax cheats could find themselves in big trouble as a result of Bush's plan to spend another $440 million on tax enforcement.

Other presidential priorities are sprinkled throughout the budget.

The spending plan includes $1.2 billion to help guard against a possible outbreak of avian influenza, bringing the government's commitment to about $7 billion so far.

Spending on various aspects of Bush's signature education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, would increase by more than $1 billion. Some of the additional money would be used to help improve high school education.

The Department of Homeland Security would get $13 billion to improve border security, including $1 billion for fencing and other measures along the border with Mexico. The money also would pay for another 3,000 Border Patrol agents and facilities to house 950 detained immigrants.

Although Bush's annual budget message stressed the need to shore up Social Security and Medicare, the president signaled that he wants to avoid another conflict with Congress over such so-called "entitlement" programs.

His budget anticipates the creation of private investment accounts as part of Social Security, but not until 2012, three years after he leaves office. Congress blocked the idea when Bush fought for it in 2005.

He offered no comprehensive plans to overhaul Social Security's finances or the nation's health economy, despite the impending retirement of the baby boom generation, which will strain both.

"If we do not address this challenge," the president said in his budget message, "we will one day leave our children with three bad options: huge tax increases, huge deficits, or huge and immediate cuts in benefits."

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(Kevin G. Hall and Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this article.)

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