By Lawrence M. O'Rourke
March 10, 2005
While the budgets proposed by Senate Republicans and House Republicans differed in details, they agreed that the government must begin with rollbacks on federal social programs in order to cut the federal budget deficit in half - still more than $200 billion - by 2010.
House Republicans started a busy day of budget making on Capitol Hill by unveiling a blueprint for $2.57 trillion in federal spending next year.
Later in the day, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Judd Gregg, R-N.H., released a $2.6 billion budget package and declared that the present course of U.S. fiscal policy is "unsustainable" because "the government has made $44 trillion in promises we can't afford to keep."
Both the Senate and House plans would boost spending on national and homeland defense, but roll back the government's support for such endeavors as education, health care, job training, the national parks, and the environment.
The House Republican plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 calls for a cut of 0.8 percent in discretionary domestic spending, but provides a 4.8 percent increase in military spending and a 2.3 percent increase for homeland security, committee documents showed.
Using comparable numbers Gregg said the Senate Republican plan would recognize that the federal government's "first job is national security." The Senate would spend everything President Bush asked for in that area.
Bush also got a ringing endorsement through the budget for his proposal to cut a new range of taxes and to continue beyond 2010 the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 that are set to expire at the end of the decade.
The House plan included $106 billion in new and extended tax cuts that Bush requested for the next five years. The Senate GOP proposal called for a "quick consideration of $70 billion in tax cuts," but did not make clear exactly how much it would trim taxes over the next five years.
The House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said the "choices were tough," but needed to fulfill the president's promise to cut the federal budget deficit in half by 2010.
"I don't think it's an overstatement to say we're facing an unprecedented challenge to our resources, including reducing the deficit," Nussle said.
"We must get serious now about our long-term budgetary problems, recognizing that the sooner we act, the less painful the choices will be," Gregg declared.
Nussle's staff said the House GOP budget would still leave a federal budget deficit of $376 billion next year, with the goal of reducing the federal shortfall to $203 billion in 2010. The House budget was in line with President Bush's budget that calculated a deficit of $332 billion, not counting war costs.
The deficit reached a record $412 billion last year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Nussle's proposal, according to House Republicans, would increase the U.S. debt to $8.635 trillion by Sept. 30, 2006.
Republicans acknowledged that the budget would scale back government support for a wide range of domestic assistance programs that are politically popular.
While representing a farm state, Nussle said that the budget called for a $5.3 billion cut in crop subsidies, land stewardship and public nutrition programs. Bush last month called for $5.7 billion in cuts to farm belt states, most of which supported him in the 2004 election.
The budget committee's top Democrat, Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, said that the GOP budget would "clearly hurt Medicaid, veterans' health care, education, and community development." GOP aides said that student loans, farm programs, welfare, national park services and unemployment insurance were also likely to face cuts.
Questioning the authenticity of the House GOP plan, Spratt pointed out that it does not cover spending for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan after next year, and "not a dime" toward the estimated $2 trillion or more needed to achieve Bush's proposal for partial privatization of Social Security.
Meanwhile, Senate Republican budget writers were seeking support for a spending and tax plan that could gain support from a handful of Democrats in order to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
In any case, while both Republican budgets lay out a broad outline of the federal government's money flow, they do not specify which federal programs are to be cut or how taxes are to be trimmed. That work is left to other committees who will set out to pass appropriations and tax bills before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.