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Bush gets weak support for program cuts

Few in Washington are taking President Bush’s proposal to kill or cut 154 programs very seriously — even some of the most loyal Republicans oppose the president's plan.
“It ought to be expanded, not eliminated," says Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., of a federal aid program for states with imprisoned criminal aliens, a program that Bush wants to scrap.Dennis Cook / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

It isn’t hard to understand why few in Washington are taking President Bush’s proposal to kill or cut 154 programs very seriously. Just listen to members of his own party.

“It ought to be expanded, not eliminated,” Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl says of aid to states with imprisoned criminal aliens, a $300 million program Bush wants to eliminate.

“We’ll fight it with everything that’s in us,” Pennsylvania Rep. John Peterson says of the president’s plan to end vocational education subsidies running $1.2 billion annually.

“It does a lot of good, it reaches out to young people,” Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine says of a $2 million program Bush wants to erase, this one supporting teaching about the underground railroad for escaped slaves.

Kyl, Peterson and DeWine are all loyal Republicans.

Killing and cutting
Bush proposed the cuts this month as part of his $2.57 trillion budget for 2006. He wants to trim non-security programs — except automatically paid benefits like Medicare — by an overall 1 percent from this year’s levels, the first such reduction proposed in a presidential budget since President Reagan was in office.

Of Bush’s 154 targets, the Education Department would suffer the most losses: He would kill 48 of its programs worth $4.3 billion and cut two others.

They range from vocational education aid distributed to states and communities nationwide to the B.J. Stupak Olympic scholarships. It provides $1 million for athletes training at the four U.S. Olympic training centers — including Northern Michigan University, in the district of the program’s sponsor, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. The program is named for the lawmaker’s late son.

Another nine Justice Department programs worth $1.5 billion would be erased, including grants for hiring local police officers and for communications equipment.

Others targeted for elimination include $9 million for traumatic brain injuries, $136 million in subsidies for advanced technology research, $90 million in state recreation grants, and hundreds of millions of dollars that lawmakers won last year for environmental, disease and agriculture projects in their home districts.

Some Republicans think cuts unwise
Bush’s rationale for the cuts is the need to control relentless federal deficits that the White House expects to set a third straight record this year, hitting $427 billion. He also would slow the growth of the Pentagon’s budget and pluck savings from Medicaid, farm aid, veterans payments and other benefit programs.

“The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all,” Bush said in his State of the Union speech this month.

Many interest groups and members of Congress, including plenty of the president’s fellow Republicans, think what’s unwise are his proposed cuts. That’s why his plan to save $15.3 billion by eliminating 99 programs and cutting 55 others faces bleak prospects.

“We want to be fiscally responsible,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said of the 28 agriculture programs Bush would cut or abolish. “But we also want to make sure American agriculture remains competitive.”

Federal programs have staying power
Last year, Bush persuaded Congress to limit non-security spending to about a 1 percent increase — the smallest in years. But of the 65 programs he then proposed eliminating to save $4.9 billion, lawmakers killed four, saving just $270 million.

In another measure of the staying power of most federal programs, of the 154 programs Bush wants to kill or cut this year, he has targeted 86 in the past — including 41 he has tried erasing or trimming every year since becoming president in 2001.

Administration officials say every program on their list has shown little evidence of effectiveness.

“Will we get everything we want? Probably not, but by doing this we help assure overall spending isn’t growing so fast” that it hinders Bush’s effort to control deficits, said White House budget office spokesman Chad Kolton.

Democrats say Bush’s proposed cuts will hurt needed programs. They also complain that the budget’s overall $389 billion for non-security programs is just 15 percent of total federal spending. Eliminate all of them and there still would be a budget shortfall, they argue.

“They end up doing a world of hurt for very little effect on the bottom line,” Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., said of Bush’s suggested reductions.

House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., have agreed to try to include Bush’s 1 percent cut in non-security spending in the congressional budget they will write in coming weeks.

But underlining the shaky fate of Bush’s effort to kill or cut specific items, Gregg said he was not sure he would support one of those proposals — to cut a prison construction program, perhaps affecting work on a prison in New Hampshire.

Even many of Washington’s staunchest supporters of spending cuts say they doubt Congress will eliminate and cut the programs targeted by Bush. They also doubt Bush’s own willingness to fight hard for his proposed cuts.

“You’re probably right,” said conservative Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when asked if this year’s list would fare about the same as last year’s. “I wish you weren’t.”