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Bush proposes record budget of $3.1 trillion

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Bush sent to Congress yesterday a record $3.1 trillion budget that would bolster funding for national security while squeezing domestic programs, including sizable cuts that would affect local and state law enforcement in Maryland and efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The spending plan, the first federal budget to exceed $3 trillion, would increase funding by 7 percent for defense and by 11 percent for homeland security, not including the $70 billion that Bush seeks for continued funding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The budget would reduce Medicaid and Medicare spending by nearly $200 billion over five years while holding domestic spending at current levels.

Democrats declared the document dead on arrival.

"It's a budget that has different priorities than what I believe is right for Maryland," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat who is a member of the Senate Budget Committee. "The Chesapeake Bay gets clobbered. Amtrak gets clobbered."

The proposal calls for significant cuts in state and local law enforcement and in justice and environmental programs.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation counted more than $28 million worth of cuts in programs that affect the bay, including nearly $10 million that would be cut from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to upgrade sewage-treatment plants in the six states in the bay watershed.

"Instead of being a partner, the Bush administration is undermining efforts to reduce pollution and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay," said William C. Baker, president of the foundation. "At a time when the states have stepped up to the plate to provide their share of the funding, the administration proposes cutting millions of dollars."

Even with the cuts, the proposal projects deficits of $410 billion this year and $407 billion next year, in part because of unbudgeted war spending and an economic stimulus package being considered by Congress. That would be up from the $162 billion shortfall this year, but still slightly less than the record $413 billion deficit of 2004.

Even with the cuts, the proposal projects deficits of more than $400 billion this year and next year, in part because of unbudgeted war spending and an economic stimulus package Congress is considering.

Bush said his plan would lay the groundwork for a balanced budget by 2012, three years after he leaves office. But his projections depend on Congress making his tax cuts permanent, among other conditions. Congressional Democrats and at least one Republican dismissed those conditions as unrealistic.

"They've obviously played an inordinate number of games to try to make it look better," Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, told the Associated Press. "Let's face it, this budget is done with the understanding that nobody's going to be taking a long, hard look at it."

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer called the proposal "simply a continuation of failed policies that have created dangerous deficits and debt, while at the same time decreasing critical investments in our nation's future."

"In seven years, President Bush turned a $5.6 trillion projected surplus into a $2.4 trillion deficit, added $3.5 trillion to the national debt and oversaw a decline in our government's capabilities," the Southern Maryland Democrat said. "Democrats will put forward a fiscally responsible budget that will be a blueprint for investing in America and tackling the Bush deficits and debt."

In his budget message to Congress, Bush said he was guided by two key principles: "keeping America safe and ensuring our continued prosperity."

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett lauded Bush's focus on defense.

"I've often said that if the federal government fails in its duty to ensure America's national security, then nothing else may matter," the Western Maryland Republican said.

Other Marylanders criticized the proposal.

"The president's misguided budget makes drastic cuts to the programs our state relies on, the cumulative effect of which threatens our standard of living and quality of life," Hoyer said.

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the State Department of Education, said Bush's proposal contains "good news and bad news" for schools. The good news, he said, is that funds for the Reading First program for low-income children and money for new programs in math, science and engineering, would be restored. The bad news, he said, is that career and technology training would be cut.

"These are the types of programs that will help Maryland and the rest of the country stay competitive," Reinhard said.

Federal support for state and local law enforcement would be cut by 61 percent, and several grant programs would be eliminated.

"The president has again significantly reduced funding for state and local law enforcement programs, even as the pressures on these agencies continue to rise," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice. "How can the president ask so much while providing so little?"

The Maryland Democrat also criticized Bush's proposal to eliminate the HOPE VI program, which she introduced 15 years ago to turn dilapidated public housing projects into mixed-income developments.

The proposal includes $479.2 million for military base realignment in Maryland, most of it for shifting workers from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The expansion of APG and other state bases is expected to bring tens of thousands of workers to Maryland and pump billions of dollars into the economy.

Bush also is requesting $103 million for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt for 2009, and $910 million through 2013, to fund research missions to study changes in the Earth's climate.

"Thankfully, the president's budget is not set in stone," Cardin said. "This is just the opening for future negotiations."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

Sun reporter David Wood and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

BUDGET IMPACTS IN MARYLAND

Chesapeake Bay: Clean Water State Revolving Fund for the six states of the bay watershed would be reduced from $50.7 million to $40.9 million. Oyster-restoration funds would be cut from $4.27 million to $850,000. Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training Program and Chesapeake Bay Environmental Restoration and Protection Program would be eliminated.

Impact aid: There would be no increase in funding for local school districts for the children of military families, whose numbers are expected to increase in Maryland as Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade and other bases expand.

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center: The center in Anne Arundel County would get $4.5 million, including $3.5 million for renovation of the Charles McC. Mathias Laboratory.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: President Bush is seeking $103 million in 2009, and $910 million through 2013, to fund research missions to study and measure changes in the Earth's climate. [Sources: White House 2009 budget proposal, congressional offices]

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