The budget seeks to overhaul several federal programs, accelerate large tax cuts and bolster spending for homeland security efforts.
“The budget for 2004 meets the challenges posed by three national priorities — winning the war against terrorism, securing the homeland and generating long-term economic growth,” Bush said in his budget message to Congress.
Despite efforts to limit spending, the deficit outlined in the president’s budget would soar to record levels, topping $304 billion this year and $307 billion in 2004. In the next five years it would add another $1.08 trillion to the national debt.
Democrats generally criticized the plan as too costly and too focused on new tax cuts aimed at spurring the economy.
“Instead of offering the nation a plan for long-term economic prosperity, the Bush budget burdens us, and our children, with trillions of dollars of new debt,” said North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee. “His plan will push up interest rates, retard economic growth, and create massive problems for the soon-to-be retiring baby boom generation.”
Republicans charged with guiding the budget through consideration said the proposal strove to strike a balance between the war on terrorism and investments in long-term economic growth.
“Our most pressing priorities are strengthening the economy and battling terrorism,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican. “The biggest challenge we will face is controlling spending while meeting all these needs.”
In his budget message that accompanied the massive document, the president defended the spending, blaming the deficits “on a recession and a war we did not choose.” Mr. Bush added his administration would impose “spending discipline” by retooling massive government entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
“The best way to counter deficits is through stronger economic growth and spending discipline in Washington,” the president’s message read. “This budget would hold spending growth to four percent, no faster than the growth of the average American families’ paycheck.”
More than half of the new government spending goes to the defense department, where the administration proposed a $15.3 billion, or 4.2 percent, increase. However, none of the Pentagon’s new spending is set to pay for any military action in Iraq.
The president also increased the budget for the government’s newest agency, the Department of Homeland Security, which would see its spending rise to $23.9 billion in 2004, an increase of eight percent over this year’s total.
White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels warned that the increase could not guarantee security, but that the homeland defense budget would do its best to meet the new threats of terrorism.
“There is not enough money in the galaxy to protect every square inch of America and every American against every conceived threat,” Daniels said.
The budget also proposes billions for other social and educational programs.
“This budget addresses the many challenges our society faces: bridging the gap for low-income families, so they can buy affordable homes; helping communities of faith pull the addicted from the grip of drugs; lifting children out of poverty and hopelessness by creating good schools and offering them caring adult mentors; and easing the pain and hardship of the global epidemic of AIDS,” Mr. Bush said in his message to Congress.
According to White House numbers, hundreds of other government agencies will be forced to make do with increases of around two percent, essentially in line with inflation.