Years of Deep Cuts Needed to Meet Goal On Deficit, Data Show

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2006

To meet the goal of halving the federal budget deficit by 2009, White House documents say that significant cuts would be needed throughout the decade in even some of President Bush's favored domestic programs.

While several of these programs, such as veterans health care and National Institutes of Health funding, are slated for increases in the budget Bush submitted to Congress this week, they actually would be cut through the end of the decade, a 673-page computer printout that details spending levels for each of the next five years for every federal program shows. The president's publicly released budget blueprint shows only his 2007 requests for federal programs that Congress funds annually.

The printout, obtained by The Washington Post, indicates that spending on elementary and secondary education, for instance, would rise to $22.8 billion in 2007 from $21.1 billion this year under the president's plan. But it would steadily slide from there to $21.6 billion by the decade's end. The NIH budget, long protected by Congress, is in for a small increase for 2007, to $28.59 billion from this year's $28.58 billion. But a long slide in the budget requests would bring the NIH budget down to $27.5 billion by 2010.

The effect of these cuts, should they occur, would be heightened by the fact that the spending figures do not take inflation into account.

Historically, presidential budgets have detailed financing for every federal program -- including entitlement programs and programs funded at Congress's discretion -- for each of the years in the budget's five- or 10-year window. Bush's budget specifies funding levels for mandatory programs, the cost to the Treasury of his tax proposals, overall spending and the projected deficits for each of the next five years. But it does not give details for discretionary programs beyond the 2007 budget.

Scott Milburn, the spokesman for the White House budget office, played down the significance of the five-year projections for discretionary spending. "The administration doesn't make multiyear discretionary budget requests and doesn't submit multiyear discretionary budget data to the House or Senate," he said. "We request funding for our policies one year at a time and submit those requests via the president's budget. There aren't other official documents that reflect the administration's policies."

The budget document does not show the same pattern for every program. Most homeland security programs are in for steady increases through 2011, as are defense programs. Many domestic programs face steep declines throughout the decade, even in 2007.

"These numbers confirm our warning about the deep cuts the president's budget will mandate in key services, like veterans care, education and environmental protection," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, who is familiar with some of the numbers but has not seen the document. "Even if the administration tries to disavow these cuts as formula-driven, they still illustrate the painful consequences of deep cuts in domestic discretionary spending."

Brian M. Riedl, a federal budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, suggested that the figures should not be taken as Bush's plans for each program. But they are important, he said, because they raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the White House deficit projections through the end of the decade.

"Discretionary spending beyond next year are simply numbers filled in to make a future deficit look small," Riedl said. "Those discretionary numbers are driven by the goal to cut the deficit in half by 2009."

To meet that goal, Congress would have to embrace a sustained effort to cut even the most sensitive programs. Under the Bush figures, student financial assistance would plunge, to $13.7 billion in 2010 from $19.2 billion this year. By the end of the decade, higher-education assistance would be cut nearly in half, to $1.1 billion from $2 billion.

Numerous programs Bush favors for increases in 2007 would find their budgets in steady decline from there, including the Women, Infants and Children's nutrition program, the Home Investment Partnerships program, which promotes homeownership, homeless assistance grants, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Peace Corps.

Programs in the news today would get increases in 2007, before joining the programs on the block. Salaries and expenses at the Mine Safety and Health Administration -- which has gained attention after several deaths in West Virginia coal mines -- would rise next year to $288 million from $277 million. But by 2010, the agency's budget at $273 million would be back below this year's level, even before accounting for inflation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's beleaguered readiness, mitigation, response and recovery program is slated for a boost in 2007, to $233 million from $202 million. But that high-water mark would not again be reached until 2011.

"It seems the administration is trying to sell an overall five-year budget without coming clean on how steep the cuts have to be to hit these targets," said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Once inflation is taken into account, the cuts look far deeper. The Agriculture Department's Food Safety Inspection Service -- which has received funding increases since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the mad cow disease scares and the international emergence of bird flu -- would get an increase next year, to $863 million from $829 million. But by 2011, the White House documents show a 17 percent cut from this year's level, once inflation is factored in.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company