Bush Reaches Back to His Conservative Base
In all, Bolten said, the budget would kill 65 federal programs and significantly trim 63 others. That would save $4.9 billion in the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
"He's in so much trouble with the conservative base, he's trying to get that back," Scott Lilly, Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, said of Bush. "But everything he does destroys any credibility he might have had in terms of being compassionate or moderate. This is a blatantly radical budget."
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said many of the targeted programs have experienced huge spending increases in the past several years, so holding at current levels would be propping up a bloated federal government. Voters have seen state governments make serious cuts in popular programs, such as education, to balance their budgets, said Flake, another spending hawk. They are sure to understand it is the federal government's turn, he said.
"I think he picks up far more votes than he loses," Flake said.
Not all Republicans agree. House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) blanched at the notion that the responsibility for deficit reduction would fall solely on his committee, when spending under the panel's jurisdiction totals one-third of the overall budget.
Since Bush plans hefty increases for military and homeland security spending, he has effectively confined deficit reduction to domestic programs that make up 17 percent of federal spending. Even if that spending were frozen, Young said, savings would be "marginal."
"While I am dedicated to developing fiscally conservative budgets, no one should expect significant deficit reduction as a result of austere non-defense discretionary spending limits," Young said. "The numbers simply do not add up."
Democratic presidential contenders made it clear yesterday that they will use the budget against Bush. Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) declared, "The new Bush budget is more of the same: record deficits, tax cuts for the wealthy and special interests, and cuts in areas that matter to families."
Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark pronounced himself "shocked," saying, "Today's budget proposal makes it clear what President Bush's priorities are: tax cuts for the rich and tough luck for everyone else."
If Bush is perceived as playing to his fiscal conservative base, some Democratic strategists say, they can make their attacks sink in with the moderate middle class, which is struggling financially in an uncertain economy. Voters on Nov. 2 will determine which strategy was the more savvy.
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