President Bush submitted a 2007 budget plan to Congress that aims to half the ballooning federal deficit racked up by his administration by the end of his term in 2009. The $2.7 trillion plan calls for an increase in defense and homeland security spending as it cuts $14.5 billion from an array of domestic programs, among them the Medicare health program for the elderly.
According to The Associated Press, the plan for the budget year that begins on October 1 contains provisions in keeping with several of the themes the president hit upon in last week's State of the Union address, among them the soaring cost of energy and medical bills and fears of losing an economic edge to such emerging global powers as China and India (see "Bush Says U.S. Is 'Addicted To Oil,' Offers Few New Plans In Speech").
Reining in the soaring budget deficit is the centerpiece of the plan. Bush's proposal cuts more than $36 billion over the next five years by slashing Medicare spending and eliminating or sharply reducing the budgets of 141 government programs over the next year for a savings of $14.5 billion. The move would allow the president to reach his stated goal of cutting the deficit in half by the end of his term in 2009.
Bush inherited a budget surplus from the Clinton administration, which turned into a massive deficit during his first administration, topping a record $413 billion in 2004.
The deficit will top $400 billion this year, thanks to the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rebuilding of the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast. The White House said last week that it would request an additional $18 billion for hurricane relief for the current budget year and $120 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of 2006 and into 2007, according to the AP. The spending for the wars is on top of an almost 5 percent increase in the budget for the Pentagon in 2007 to $439.3 billion. The Department of Homeland Security would also get a nearly 5 percent increase under the plan.
"After driving the nation into a fiscal mess, the president is asking our seniors, our students and our families to clean it up while the wealthy special interests reap the rewards," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said in a statement before the budget arrived on Capitol Hill, according to Reuters.
Among the other programs getting a boost in the budget are several mentioned in the State of the Union dealing with the development of alternative fuels, expanded health savings accounts and the "American Competitiveness Initiative" to better equip American students to compete with rising world powers.
In other budget news, The New York Times reports that the Pentagon is tripling its spending this year to nearly $3.5 billion in an effort to combat the use of increasingly powerful and sophisticated homemade bombs that are the #1 killer of American troops in Iraq. The spending bump is an acknowledgement that despite the yearly rise in deaths from the devices, the military's response has not been focused or coordinated enough at the highest levels.
The increase will fund the doubling of technical, forensic and intelligence specialists assigned to combating the problem to about 360 and the calling in of hundreds of other experts, including more FBI and CIA agents.
The number of attacks from improvised explosive devices against allied and Iraqi forces has nearly doubled in the last year, according to the Times, from 5,607 in 2004 to 10,593 in 2005. With the military able to discover and defuse only 40 percent of the bombs, 407 of the 846 Americans killed last year in Iraq were killed by the devices.