Bush will limit non-Defense spending to 1 percent increase

Seeking to reassure restless conservatives, President Bush will propose less than a 1 percent increase in non-defense, non-homeland-security spending Feb. 2, when he submits his fiscal 2005 budget request to Congress, administration and congressional sources said.

Given that the White House's entire discretionary spending request will amount to less than 4 percent -- and homeland security will receive the lion's share, a 9.7 percent increase -- funding for many social programs will be frozen or cut. This is an unpalatable prospect to many on both sides of the aisle, as lawmakers gear up for the fiscal 2005 budget resolution and resulting appropriations process.

"We need to focus on the needs of the American people: jobs, health care, education, security," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "We will not drive our kids into debt personally for their college education, or as a country to pay the debt of the reckless budget cuts of the president."

Under fire from conservatives for profligate spending, the administration made its 2005 budget request the lowest non-defense, non-homeland-security discretionary increase of Bush's tenure.

According to figures compiled by the House Budget Committee's minority staff, a 1 percent increase would equal $341.3 billion in 2005 discretionary spending over the 2004 level of $337.9 billion, after enactment of the 2004 omnibus measure approved Thursday by the Senate. The 2004 figure would represent a 1.2 percent increase over the 2003-enacted level of $334 billion.

That could spell trouble for such a budget proposal and subsequent spending allocations with moderate Republicans in the House and particularly in the more closely divided Senate.

"When you start making big cuts, people start to howl," a House Appropriations Committee aide said. "You'll have written a bunch of bills no one is going to vote for."

The aide continued: "Can the House pass a bill at 1 percent? Probably. But there's no way the Senate could."

Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has signaled he will try to accommodate Bush's request and try to hold the line on spending during this election year, sources said.

"Sen. Frist does feel fiscal restraint is necessary," a spokeswoman said.

However critics from both ends of the political spectrum argue non-defense, non-homeland-security spending represents only about one-sixth of the federal budget and will not make much of a dent in the deficit, which the Office of Management and Budget is projecting at about $500 billion for 2004.

Brian Reidl, an analyst with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, said such a proposal does nothing to rein in mandatory entitlement spending, which represents two-thirds of the federal budget.

"It certainly is an improvement, but I would like to see cuts made rather than a 1 percent increase," Reidl said. "The big question is whether or not the president will back this up with a veto. Deeper cuts will be needed to cut the deficit in half in 2009, and a growing economy will be needed as well."

Conservative groups called on President Bush to veto the $328 billion, 2004 omnibus appropriations bill cleared Thursday by the Senate. Instead, Bush applauded it.

The measure totals $820 billion in new discretionary and mandatory spending. Fiscal hawks decried the bill's prolific earmarking, which reached $10.7 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"This spending spree has boldly sent the federal deficit to where no deficit has every gone before, and unfortunately there is no end in sight," said Jill Lancelot, the group's president.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who was overseas for a NATO conference and missed the vote Thursday, is proposing legislation to limit home-state earmarks in appropriations bills, although such proposals rarely go anywhere. An effort to stop earmarks altogether by Senate Commerce Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., one of four Republicans to vote against the bill, is currently bottled up in the Rules Committee.

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