Years of deficit reduction are left off the books in Bush budget


WASHINGTON -- The current federal deficit of $423 billion will fall to $360
billion or so if Congress honors the overall requested cuts in President
Bush's budget for fiscal year 2007, beginning in October. But the Bush
White House is on a mission to halve the deficit by 2009, and that will
require budget rollbacks through 2010, even for some of those programs that
would see an increase in 2007.

Among the programs that would be hardest hit under this scenario are the
Women, Infants and Children's nutritional assistance program, better-known
as WIC; student aid for higher education; and environmental protective
services. Numerous other domestic programs would face steady declines. The
figures do not account for inflation, meaning the shortfalls would be
greater than shown by numbers alone because the funding would not go as
far, so to speak, with inflation factored in.

These budgetary assumptions do not appear in the president's FY '07 budget
request, which departs from tradition by not providing detail on the
financing of domestic discretionary programs. These are the programs that
face the steepest cuts if deficit reduction goals are going to be met; for
unlike entitlement programs, they are not protected by law, and this makes
it much easier to enact changes in their budgets.

Instead the projected future reductions are found in a 637-page printout
obtained and analyzed by The Washington Post. A spokesman quoted there for
the White House budget office explained that the president requests funding
for domestic programs one year at a time.

Congress will have a strong say in whether the cuts through 2010 are ever
enacted, and the Post quoted a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation,
Brian M. Riedl, to the effect that the numbers on discretionary spending
are simply "filled in to make a future deficit look small" and don't
reflect the president's actual plans. (The Heritage Foundation is a
conservative-leaning think tank based in Washington.)

But if deficit reduction comes around again as a national priority,
domestic programs will inevitably feel the crunch. The Bush administration
had counted on a growing economy to keep the deficit manageable; but even
the enhanced tax receipts of a high-performance economy (up 3.5 percent in
the year of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the associated spikes in fuel
pricing, with federal tax revenue receipts growing at the greatest rate in
a quarter century) have not offset the expense of war: $150 million a day
in Iraq, $27 million a day in Afghanistan. The federal deficit is the
amount national expenditures exceed revenues, and $423 billion is the
highest such figure in American history.