Bush Unveils Budget, Tax Cut Proposals to Congress
Addressing Congress last night, President Bush unveiled his $1.9 trillion budget package -- which includes a 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut -- and promised to "continue or bolster government programs" that Americans "care about," such as Medicare, the Washington Post reports (Goldstein/Allen, Washington Post, 2/28). In his 49-minute speech, Bush tackled "themes long sounded by the Democrats," including spending increases for Medicare and other health initiatives (McManus/Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 2/28). He vowed to double the Medicare budget over the next decade and to spend $238 million next year to "fund all current programs and to begin a new prescription drug benefit for low-income seniors," adding, "No senior in America should have to choose between buying food and buying prescriptions." He said, "Medicare's finances are strained and its coverage is outdated. ... The framework for reform has been developed by Sens. [John] Breaux [D-La.] and [Bill] Frist [R-Tenn.] and Congressman [Bill] Thomas [R-Calif.], and now, it's time to act."
In addition, Bush proposed refundable tax credits that would allow uninsured Americans to purchase health coverage and a plan to bolster community health centers nationwide that would "double the number of people served at such facilities." He also vowed to enact a patients' rights bill that would "ensure access to the courts for legitimate claims" but establish a "strong independent review" to "promote quality health care, not frivolous lawsuits." Bush proposed "increase[d] funding" for medical research in order to provide "hope to many who struggle with serious disease" (Bush speech text, Los Angeles Times, 2/28).
In a televised response to Bush's address, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said that the president's proposal would "consume nearly all of the available surplus, at the expense of prescription drug coverage" and other "critical" initiatives. He added, "Even worse, instead of strengthening Social Security and Medicare, the president's plan actually takes money away from both programs, and that is irresponsible, and it's wrong." House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), who appeared with Daschle, said that Bush's budget numbers "just don't add up" and that the proposal "leaves no money for anything except tax cuts." He concluded, "If what the president said tonight sounded too good to be true, it probably is" (Daschle/Gephardt speech text,
Washington Post, 2/28)
Several newspaper editorials and opinion columns commented on Bush's address and proposed budget plan. Excerpts appear below.
- The Washington Post calls Bush's proposal "as ambitious in its multiple aims as it is risky in its fiscal assumptions," with the president "essentially promis[ing]" that "everything was possible" -- including a large tax cut and a number of health initiatives. However, the Post warns that "[i]n the end, Bush is taking a large calculated risk that his figures will add up" (Washington Post, 2/28).
- Arguing that "[c]utting taxes is urgent now," the New York Post praises Bush's proposal to "distribute taxes to hardworking Americans" and enforce "some essential discipline" on spending in Washington. The editorial adds, "Everyone knows that politicians with a surplus can be as responsible as a teenager with a six pack and keys to the family care," concluding, "Here's hoping last night's speech will serve as a reminder of that" (New York Post, 2/28).
- The Los Angeles Times argues that Bush's plan raised "some old and new red flags," warning that some "worthy programs with fewer defenders" will lose funding under the proposal. Pointing out that Bush "has fully arrived," the Times concludes, "It will be up to Congress to make sure that extravagant permanent tax cuts and wasteful pork-barreling do not squander the surplus" (Los Angeles Times, 2/28).
- Warning that Bush has unveiled a "precariously balanced" budget, USA Today calls the package an "all-too-familiar Washington" practice -- "[p]ass out the goodies now, while promising to pay for them later with dollars that will never be found." The editorial adds that his tax cut may "eviscerate Bush's cornerstone legislative efforts," such as Medicare reform, while other programs will "have to take serious hits" (USA Today, 2/28).
- In an accompanying USA Today opinion piece, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) writes that while Bush's plan may not be "a panacea for the sluggish economy, the right tax cuts would help bolster the economy." He asks, "Can we afford to pass tax relief beyond the level proposed by President Bush? With massive tax surpluses and a sluggish economy, we can't afford not to" (Armey, USA Today, 2/28).
- USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro argues that while Bush "accepts the need for Medicare and Social Security," he cannot "shake the GOP mantra that government must operate on the cheap," adding that his tax cut plan "demonstrates [that] the central tenet of the Republican Party never changes." In addition, he points out that Bush's plan to increase spending on Medicare next year by $81 billion "is mandated by law," and that although Bush proposed "finding 'common ground'" on a patients' rights bill, he "sounded unrelenting in his desire to limit the legal liabilities of HMOs" (Shapiro, USA Today, 2/28).
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