Bush Set to Unveil Budget Package
Set to address a joint session of Congress and the nation tonight, President Bush will unveil his $1.95 trillion FY 2002 budget, including a 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut package -- a proposal that Democrats have criticized as "too much money to the rich at the expense of social programs" such as Medicare, USA Today reports (Hall, USA Today, 2/27). Democrats say that Bush's plan "does not add up" and would "raid the surpluses" in Medicare and Social Security for tax cuts (Caruso/Norton, CongressDaily/A.M., 2/27). "He's treated this federal budget like a giant shell game," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/27). Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) added that Bush should "get off the campaign kick" and "scale back" his tax cut to provide additional funding for other initiatives, including a Medicare prescription drug benefit (USA Today, 2/27). "You have to be willing to change direction when you're headed over a cliff," Reid said (Milbank, Washington Post, 2/27). In addition, some Democratic governors also criticized Bush's tax cut. Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D) said, "[S]ome of us are very concerned that the tax cut ... is too large and will not permit funding for some key issues, such as education and prescription drug coverage" (Allen/Balz, Washington Post, 2/27).
Despite the criticism, Bush said that his "common sense" budget package will serve as "a blueprint for new beginnings" in America. "I readily concede some appropriators may not like the fact that we're asking there to be fiscal sanity in the federal budget, but that's one of the reasons I became president," he added (USA Today, 2/27). According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday, Bush's tax cut plan also faces "obstacles" from the American public, with 35% of respondents backing spending increases for health care and education programs over tax reductions. Only 22% favored a tax cut as a "top priority" (Milbank, Washington Post, 2/27). In addition, a national survey conducted last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that support for a tax cut ranks "well behind" spending for Medicare and Social Security (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 2/27).
In addition to his tax cut proposal, Bush also plans to "reiterate his belief" in "fundamental reforms" for Medicare and Social Security during his speech tonight. However, White House sources said that Bush "has not yet decided on how to pursue" a Medicare overhaul "or even when to take up the issue." One senior health official said that Bush has not decided whether to craft a "detailed" Medicare reform package or back legislation in Congress. "That's part of the discussion now," the official said (Goldstein, Washington Post, 2/27). Bush's budget proposal will also include several health care initiatives, such as doubling spending for medical research and earmarking $124 million for new community health centers to provide care for more than four million uninsured Americans (Hall, USA Today, 2/27). The president's speech will begin tonight at 9 p.m. EST and last about 40 to 50 minutes. After the address, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) will offer the Democratic response (Milbank, Washington Post, 2/27).