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Budget tight, deficit high

Bush's $2.5 trillion plan would cut 150 programs. Other costs grow.

By Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / February 8, 2005


President Bush's just-released $2.57 trillion 2006 budget is noteworthy for what it includes and for what it leaves out.

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Mr. Bush's budget plan seeks deep cuts in a wide array of government programs, from farm subsidies to education programs. Yet it does not list projected costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will easily top $80 billion this year. Nor does it reflect the price of introducing private investment accounts within Social Security, the administration's top domestic legislative priority.

The bottom line: a tight projected budget, plus the possibility of big undetailed costs arising later in the year, mean that the massive federal deficit may now affect US politics more than it did in Bush's first term. "There's less money to go around and so people fight much more fiercely over the remaining dollars," says Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a fiscal watchdog group.

The 2006 spending blueprint submitted by Bush to Congress on Monday is easily the toughest of his presidency. It would eliminate or drastically cut some 150 government programs, according to administration officials.

Farm supports would be reduced by $5.7 billion over the next decade, for instance. Medicaid, the giant federal program that funds healthcare for the poor, would be cut. Federal subsidies for Amtrak would end. Even Start, a $225 million Education Department literacy program, would face the ax.

Outside defense, homeland security, interest costs, and Social Security and other big entitlement programs, US spending would be reduced by about one-half of one percent, in real terms.

Pentagon spending, meanwhile, would increase 4.8 percent in 2006 under the Bush proposal, even without taking into account the costs of current military operations.

Military personnel would receive a 3.1 percent pay raise. But the Air Force's high-priority F/A-22 fighter would be halted in 2008 after 179 aircraft - 96 short of the number the Defense Department asked for. The Navy would get only one new submarine and three surface ships, instead of the six vessels the administration had previously outlined for the 2006 budget.

The politics of spending cuts

There is a long process to wend through before Bush's blueprint becomes law, however. Many of the programs targeted for reduction by administration officials have legislative supporters. Many now slated for elimination will likely be revived.

Take last year as an example: In its 2005 fiscal year budget, the administration targeted 65 programs for elimination or reduction. Of those, 60 received a new lease on life.

Instead of a projected $5 billion in savings, the administration reaped only about $300 million from the cuts. And in any case, slashing the deficit by reducing nondefense, nonentitlement spending is generally a losing game, say some analysts. There is just not enough money to be had.