OMB official defends spending cuts in Bush budget

Office of Management and Budget Executive Associate Director Austin Smythe spent a long morning fending off criticisms of President Bush's fiscal 2002 budget blueprint Tuesday at the Urban Institute's annual roundtable discussion on the President's budget and the economy.

Smythe rejected as "simply unfair" characterizations of the Bush budget by several Democratic-leaning participants, such as Brookings Institution senior fellow Isabel Sawhill's comment that it is "a tax proposal dressed up in budget clothes, and clothes that are a little gauzy at that."

Smythe said Bush's budget is comparable to the first budget former President Clinton submitted in 1993. He said it contains "more than enough detail" on the spending side, despite complaints from Senate Budget Committee Democratic staffer James Horney that the $1.96 trillion plan lacks specifics about what discretionary spending cuts it would make to keep total spending growth to a 4 percent increase.

OMB proposed that FY02 appropriations be capped at $660.7 billion, compared to $635 billion in FY01.

Smythe defended the administration's insistence on limiting spending growth to 4 percent, saying OMB's baseline already incorporates the much higher 6 percent growth rate of the past three years, as well as the substantial amount of congressional earmarks and one-time spending initiatives enacted last year.

Smythe called OMB's FY02 baseline "completely fair," saying that "at some point, you have to draw the line"--notwithstanding comments last week by his former boss, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., that a 4 percent increase over FY01 may not be enough to accommodate congressional spending priorities.

Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, also took the administration to task for the relative lack of detail on its proposed FY02 spending cuts. He said if defense spending is hiked as a result of the strategic review being conducted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then domestic discretionary spending programs outside of those Bush targets for increases, such as education and health research, would face substantial cuts that Bush has yet to specify.

Smythe said Bush's budget is clear on the President's priorities and where the decreases would come, saying it is not fair to forecast huge cuts on the horizon.

"We'll have the detail in April... We'll be able to lay all that out," he said, referring to when the more comprehensive budget documents are submitted to Congress next month.

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