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Dems: Cuts pay for plan

WASHINGTON/(United Press International via COMTEX) -- Democratic Lawmakers said Monday afternoon that President Bush's 2002 federal budget proposal cuts funding from key agencies and programs in an effort to pay for the administration's tax cut plan.

"Once we got the budget today, we found out why it was so long coming. The devil, as they say, is in the details," said the ranking Democrat member of the house budget committee, John Spratt, D-S.C. Spratt called the Bush spending proposal a "watershed budget" that would have long-reaching effects stretching into the next decade.

Bush began early Monday promoting the plan in a meeting after a meeting with Cabinet members. He called the proposal a plan that protects taxpayers, children and the federal surplus. Democrats have long criticized his $1.6 trillion tax relief package as a catalyst for erosion of the federal surplus that is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be roughly $5.6 trillion. Last week the Senate slashed the tax proposal to $1.2 trillion.

"Washington's known for its pork," Bush said. "This budget funds our needs without the fat. It also represents a new way of doing business in Washington and a new way of thinking. The budget puts the taxpayers first, and that's exactly where they belong."

The budget proposal, the administration said, reflects his commitment to moderate 4 percent growth in government while funding what he considers the nation's priorities: education, Medicare, defense and tax relief, while generating a $231 billion budget surplus in 2002. It also places money in what the administration hopes eventually will be a $1 trillion contingency fund as an insurance policy against tough times or in the event more money is needed later for Medicare, farmers or the military. And the plan projects a $5.6 trillion surplus over 10 years, saving $2.6 trillion for Social Security.

Spratt said Democrats failed to get out the message that President George W. Bush's $1.6 trillion dollar tax cut plan would have to be paid for by cuts in spending on federal programs.

"I think we could have made our case better that there were implications, consequences in what we were doing, that weren't evident because we didn't have the budget. We could have made our case better about the implications and consequences of this budget if we had had the president's budget before us," Spratt said.

The plan sets aside $310.5 billion for the Pentagon in 2002, but with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continuing a sweeping review of defense policies, strategy and weapons, exactly how that money will be spent remains unclear. What Bush has revealed is that defense spending would increase by $14.2 billion, with $1.4 billion channeled to the Pentagon for pay increases for military personnel, $2.6 billion for research and development and an additional $400 million to improve housing for military personnel. It also would increase veterans' funding to $1.1 billion to fully implement legislation that would help in processing veteran's disability claims.

For education -- a cornerstone of Bush's campaign last year -- the plan calls for $1.9 billion in increased funding for elementary and secondary school education by 2002 and funds the president's Reading First Initiative -- which would have every child reading by the third grade -- at $975 million in 2002, more than tripling the current funding amount.

The Justice Department budget of $24.6 billion, up from this year's $24.4 billion, takes a bite out of a popular program designed to put extra police officers on America's streets. The Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program would receive $4.2 billion in actual "budget authority" down from $5.2 billion in 2001.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels said funding axes temporary hiring grants that have run out. Instead that money would be directed toward placing officers in schools.

At a time when Bush has received scathing criticism from environmentalists after reversing his campaign promise to mandate carbon dioxide limits on power plants and pulling the administration's support of the Kyoto Protocol for Climate Change, his proposal fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million.

But the budget cuts funding for environmental programs by $2.3 billion include funding for initiatives to set the Kyoto Protocols in motion. It also abolished another $190 million for renewable energy research.

The budget for the U.S. Department of the Interior drop from 10.2 billion down to $9.8 billion, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget would decline more than 6 percent with the agency loosing nearly $500 million.

"If you look through this budget, the other curiosity is that every account that deals with the environment is cut. EPA is cut, Interior is cut, and lo and behold, the Department of Energy programs for the cleanup of nuclear waste, which concerns me because it affects my state, is cut by $458 million. Across the board, environment, conservation, park land, as you know, is not one program under one department; it's in many departments," Spratt said.

Under the Commerce Department, funding for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration would fall 27 percent from $100.4 million in 2001 to $73 million in 2002. The proposal would increase funding for research into ultra-wide band and radio technology, which has wireless communication applications.

The nation's premier research agency, the National Institutes of Science and Technology based in Gaithersburg, Md., would have its budget slashed by $113 million.

On health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would receive $468.8 billion, up 8.9 percent from 2001. The proposal would give the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., $2.8 billion in funding, the largest funding increase in the medical research institution's history. For seniors the proposal would set aside $153 billion over 10 years for Medicare reform and development of a prescription drug plan for those with low-incomes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would see a 10 percent increase, a hike of more than $120 million. NASA will lose budgetary ground to inflation under the $14.51 billion budget being requested by the Bush administration for fiscal year 2002. The budget request, an effective cut, comes at a time when the agency is facing huge cost overruns on the International Space Station.

Bush also said the budget will provide a $21-million increase for food safety programs, a $1-billion increase for Pell education grants for low-income students, and a $350 million increase for child care. It also provides $67 million for a mentoring program. Bush said that in an effort to fight crime, the budget would set aside $87 million for "front-line" prosecutors and $75 million a gun safety program directed at children.

Attention now turns to Congress which returns from recess April 23. The two chambers must then compromise on the budget resolution which would allow appropriations subcommittees to designate funding for federal departments and agencies. Bush's signature on a final bill is required by law no later than Oct. 1.

(c) 2001 United Press International

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