KWAME HOLMAN: Representing the House Budget Committee, Kansas Republican Jim Ryun was one of the first to receive a copy of the president's budget when they were delivered to the capitol early this morning.
REP. JIM RYUN, R-KAN: A lot of numbers, a lot of good reading.
KWAME HOLMAN: The nearly 2,500-page document lays out more than $2.5 trillion of federal spending for fiscal year 2006, and includes the first cut in basic domestic programs since Ronald Reagan was president. Meeting with his cabinet this morning, President Bush defended his budget.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I fully understand that sometimes it's hard to eliminate a program that sounds good. But by getting people to focus on results and saying to members of Congress, "show us the results as to whether or not this program is working," I think we'll get a pretty good response.
KWAME HOLMAN: Presidents send their budgets to Congress early in February hoping to influence the final legislative decisions members will make by the start of the new fiscal year in October.
And traditionally, members immediately rate the proposals anywhere from "a good starting point" to "dead on arrival." In that tradition, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid today called the president's budget "the most irresponsible and misleading budget in our nation's history." And at his briefing this afternoon, the president's budget director Josh Bolten said recent history is on President Bush's side.
JOSH BOLTEN: I imagine that you all have already gotten some "dead on arrival" comments from folks on the Hill. The same thing was said last year. In the end, the Congress delivered the totals that the president sought. Now, a lot of the details are different and that is Congress's responsibility to make appropriations decisions, subject to the president's signature.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president's budget is a blueprint of how much he wants the government to spend, offset by how much revenue he expects it to collect. But because spending once again will far exceed revenues, the government will have to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to make up the difference.
The projected deficit this year alone is $427 billion. But Budget Director Bolten says if Congress follows the president's budget proposals, annual deficits could be cut in half by 2009, a promise made by the president during last week's state of the union address.
JOSH BOLTEN: It's never unanimously popular to propose any savings. The spending is in the budget for a reason, because somebody wanted it there. But in an era of limited resources, we need to set some priorities and I'm optimistic that we'll get some good cooperation from the Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: While defense and homeland security are slated for large increases, the president's budget calls for eliminating or drastically scaling back some 150 federal programs.
They include: Government support for farmers-- price supports would be reduced on a wide range of crops; federal grant programs for local schools, vocational education, anti-drug efforts and literacy programs would be cut back.
Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, would have its growth restrained; the Army Corps of Engineers, whose dam and waterway projects are extremely popular in Congress, would receive less funding than it did in 2005; and federal subsidies for Amtrak's operation would be eliminated.
Today, Democrats said those cuts are the wrong way to reduce the deficit. John Spratt of South Carolina is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
REP. JOHN SPRATT: They're real and they hurt and yet for all of the hurt these acts hardly move deficit at all. This is the irony of what they have proposed here as a budget solution. These programs have proved themselves and they have stood the test of time.
Yet they're going and cutting them. We simply take it back to the American people and throw it to the Congress and say, "Is this really what you want to buy into?"
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats also argue that the president's plan only achieves its deficit- reduction goals by leaving out big-ticket spending items, such as the cost of keeping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and paying for his top domestic priority, revamping Social Security. Budget Director Bolten.
JOSH BOLTEN: The budget went to bed a couple of weeks, two or three weeks ago and so before the president's proposals were announced. And the president's Social Security proposals are still in formulation, in a process of consultation with the Congress.
We're just reflecting now for you what we do know about the immediate deficit effects of the personal account formulation that the president advertised. There's a lot more, though, to go to know what the real numbers are going out into the future.
KWAME HOLMAN: Also left out of the president's budget was the future cost of making Mr. Bush's first- term tax cuts permanent. Democrats today said those hidden costs will lead the nation further into debt. North Dakota's Kent Conrad:
SEN. KENT CONRAD: He is taking us to a future in which massive cuts will be required. There will be massive cuts, I'm predicting today massive cuts in Social Security, massive cuts in Medicare under this president's plan. He's going to take us right over the cliff into massive deficits and massive debt that will harm the American economy for a long time to come.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congress begins the process of examining the president's budget tomorrow, with hearings on both the House and Senate sides of the Capitol.