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Read His Lips: Bush's Exercise in Fiscal Restraint

By Dana Milbank
Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page A05

President Bush tucked a rather startling revelation into the middle of his news conference Wednesday. Discussing the upcoming release of a budget for 2006, he vowed: "I'll promote a package that will show the budget being cut in half over the next five years."

One suspects that the president means he will be cutting the budget deficit in half over five years, and not that he will be halving everything from military spending to agriculture subsidies. But he made the mistake four times in the news conference, saying last year's "projected budget" was $527 billion, that the actual "budget was $412 billion" and that this year's "budget is projected to be at $427 billion." In fact, the fiscal 2005 budget is forecast to be about $2.43 trillion -- and nobody's thinking about cutting that in half.

From his chair at the RNC, Ken Mehlman wants to poke a hole in the "liberal" media filter. (Stephen J. Boitano -- AP)

The president seemed to have similar difficulty on the more parochial topic of Carl Cameron's son. Taking a question from Fox News's White House correspondent, Bush asked about the age of Cameron's child, and Cameron said the child is 14.

"Yes, 14. Well, if she were -- " Bush began.

"He, sir," Cameron corrected.

"He, excuse me," Bush continued. "I should have done the background check. She will -- when she gets ready to -- when she's 50, the system will be broke, if my math is correct."

This exchange may have been a symptom of on-the-job stress. But on Thursday, Bush had an interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb that should reassure Americans who feared the worst. "The longer you're in this White House, with all those that have gone before you, do you see ghosts of past presidents?" Lamb queried.

"Well, I quit drinking in '86," Bush replied.

Crossed Wires, Not Swords

There were murmurs on the Hill Thursday afternoon that the old Kennedy-Kerry rivalry, suppressed during the 2004 presidential campaign, had returned.

It was to have been John F. Kerry's return to the spotlight last week. The junior senator from Massachusetts and vanquished Democratic presidential nominee was scheduled to outline his health care plan in the "keynote luncheon address" of the Families USA conference at the Mayflower Hotel at 1 p.m. on Thursday. "This will be Senator Kerry's first speech in D.C. since the election," his office announced.

But then the senior senator from Massachusetts, fellow Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, announced that he, too, would be giving a "major" speech (Kennedy rarely announces that he will be giving a "minor" speech"), on Iraq, also at 1 p.m. on Thursday, just blocks away at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said Kennedy had originally intended to give the speech after the Iraqi elections this weekend, but then moved up the date, inadvertently stepping on Kerry. "Just crossed wires," the aide insisted.

Kerry's office expressed no hurt feelings. Kerry himself, meanwhile, is following the old "if you want a friend in Washington" adage. He has purchased a schnauzer named Stache, short for moustache.

SundayPolitics is relieved that Kerry did not purchase a French poodle.

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