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Democrats Criticize Budget Cuts for Social Programs


Not surprisingly, Democrats are unhappy with President Bush's budget package, and some Republicans have issues with it as well, though the two parties see different problems and solutions. NPR's Andrea Seabrook has that part of the story, from the Capitol


SEABROOK: It is safe to say that congressional Democrats are not impressed with the president's proposal.

Senator KENT CONRAD (Democrat, North Dakota): This budget is utterly detached from any financial reality.

SEABROOK: North Dakota senator Kent Conrad is the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee and long-time fiscal hawk.

Senator CONRAD: This is not sustainable. And what flows from this is not sustainable. It took 42 presidents 224 years to run up a trillion dollars of debt held by foreigners, our debt held by foreigners. This president has doubled that amount in five years.

SEABROOK: Remember, the deficit is the amount of money the U.S. charges on its credit card in just one year. The debt is the total amount of money the country owes, much of it to foreign investors. So yearly deficits add to the national debt.

The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, John Spratt, of South Carolina, claims Mr. Bush is playing a kind of shell game with the nation's money. The president's budget only looks ahead five years from now, and shows deficits getting smaller, but, Spratt says, those deficits balloon out of control just after that window.

Representative JOHN SPRATT (Democrat, South Carolina): And all you can say is that the president has dodged this, his administration has dodged these facts, and have done so conveniently by only going out five years and not showing us that the hard part is the second five years, not the next five years.

SEABROOK: As for specific proposals, Spratt says he'd love to see a boost in education, as the president spoke of in his State of the Union address.

Representative SPRATT: I was glad to see him make a bold statement about math and science education. I think the country should do that. But you will search in vain for the funding for that.

SEABROOK: Spratt says the president is cutting education spending overall by more than $2 billion. Said Spratt, that's robbing Peter to pay Paul. Even some Republicans were less than overjoyed at Mr. Bush's budget. Mildly satisfied might be a good way to describe Texas congressman Jeb Hensarling's reaction.

Representative JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): Well, all in all, I'm pleased with his submission. I think it's a courageous budget. I think it's one that has our priorities placed where they need to be placed, and that is a budget that looks out for the next generation and not just the next election.

SEABROOK: But if you detect hesitation in Hensarling's voice, it's because he, and many of his colleagues, would like to see deeper cuts in some areas, like healthcare spending. And they're annoyed that Mr. Bush has yet again left funding for the war in Iraq outside of the normal budget process. And in either party, the big question, in Washington, at least, is what appetite does Congress have for cutting popular social programs with an election approaching.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.