Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle waged assaults
on President Bush’s fiscal policy yesterday, this time over
the administration’s Fiscal Year 2004-2005 budget
request.

It calls for 7-percent increased defense spending to support the
war on terror. An additional 10-percent increase in homeland
security would strengthen the nation’s borders to prevent
future attacks, Bush told Congress yesterday.

The remainder of the budget would freeze all other spending by
restricting increases below the expected rate of inflation.

Budget allotments for higher education have been expanded under
the new budget. Bush requested that the maximum amount for
individual Federal Family Education Loans rises from $2,625 to
$3,000, according to the White House website. Additionally,
students would see increases over 2004 in the Teacher Loan
Forgiveness program, an initiative Bush proposed in 2002 that
pardons college loans for students entering the teaching
profession. More than $170 million more is proposed to the
program.

Cuts are proposed in health care, education, transportation and
veterans benefits. Costs for the war in Iraq were not included.

The federal deficit, expected to reach a record high in 2004,
has been a source of criticism for the administration.

The Bush administration hopes to cut the deficit in half by
2008.

Bush and his economic team maintain that as tax receipts recover
from the recession in 2001 and 2002, the increased revenue will
justify the president’s current levels of spending. Already,
they say, future indicators such as “continued strength in
housing starts” and “extraordinary productivity
growth” suggest the economy is rebounding, a gamble
administration officials hope will eventually shrink the
deficit.

“I’m confident our budget addresses a very serious
situation,” Bush said at a Cabinet meeting.

“And that is that we are at war and we had dealt with a
recession. And our budget is able to address those significant
factors in a way that reduces the deficit in half.”

But some Democrats and Republicans have said they are skeptical
of the president’s plan.

“He is making a lot Republicans angry; however, I think
he’s making do with what he has right now,” said LSA
senior Steve MacGuidwin, president of the University College
Republicans.

MacGuidwin added that he did not think Bush’s fiscal
liberalism would dienchant his Republican base.

“It’s kind of naïve to think we wouldn’t
have as big a deficit as we do right now (under a different
president),” he said.

But LSA junior Courtney Skiles, secretary of the College
Democrats, said the ever-deepening defecit will likely cost Bush in
the election.

“The fact that he has spent so much in the past term will
definitely harm him,” Skiles said. She added that
Bush’s defense spending constitutes
“misallocated” expenditures, as millions of jobs have
vanished domestically while the government continues to spend
overseas.

MacGuidwin countered that statement, stating that the U.S.
occupation of Iraq is now a necessity and thus a fixture of the
budget.

“The reality of the situation is, we’re not going to
pull out of Iraq now and it would be best to plan for it,” he
said.

“The president clearly does not understand the economic,
social and security challenges that our nation faces today,”
said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a leading presidential
contender.

Just a week ago, Republicans and Democrats alike felt duped by
revised projections for government expenses under the new Medicare
bill, a bipartisan piece of legislation passed into law on Dec. 8,
2003.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) told the New York Times yesterday that
he was “shocked and appalled” by the latest
figures.

“We should reopen the bill and examine what is driving the
cost estimate,” Graham said.

Conservative unease intensified by the budget’s upward
re-estimate — by one-third — of the 10-year cost of the
newly enacted Medicare overhaul to $534 billion.

“This budget is a step in the right direction and I am
hopeful that working with other members of Congress we can do even
more,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas.)

Overall, Bush’s budget would boost spending by 3.5
percent. Revenue would grow by 13.2 percent to $2.04 trillion
— underscoring the administration’s reliance on
economic growth to make the red ink subside.

Still, Congress is growing more vocal in decrying what they call
the president’s lack of fiscal discipline.

“Today the President released a budget that deepens the
deficits that his policies have helped to create,” said Rep.
John Spratt (D-S.C.) of the House Budget Committee.

— The Associated Press contributed to this
report.

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