President Wraps Budget in Flag, Sends It To Congress

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - President Bush on Monday sent Congress a $2.1-trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2003, shifting money away from some agencies and programs to beef up funding for homeland security and the war on terror. Press reports said the president, in shipping his budget request to Congress, covered it with the Stars and Stripes.

The budget plan includes $591 billion in additional tax relief over the next ten years, something Democrats are expected to attack. Wire reports say the budget includes spending cuts for the Labor Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and several other departments.

Under Bush's plan, the government would return to deficit spending, something that troubles some conservatives. The military would benefit the most under Bush's budget plan, and spending on homeland security would double to $37.7 billion in 2003.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said the president released a "responsible, common-sense budget that meets the needs of our nation in a time of war."

"Budgets must reflect our country's needs and interests. This one does so by putting the war on terrorism, homeland security and our nation's economy at the forefront, while limiting growth in spending for those programs that are not as essential during these trying times," Hastert said in a statement from Capitol Hill.

House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) liked the proposal for the education tax credit in the president's budget.

"Regardless of income or other factors, parents with children in chronically-failing schools should able to choose the best school possible for their children," Boehner said. "Low-income parents in disadvantaged communities with failing schools should have the same education choices that affluent parents have."

The credit would provide up to $2,500 a year for parents with children in failing schools and would be refundable - making it an especially powerful tool for low-income parents who lack the options more affluent parents have.

"Giving parents this choice will broaden the escape route for students trapped in failing schools. It will also energize the public education system and spur struggling schools to succeed," Boehner noted.

"For low-income parents, this could mean the difference between keeping a child trapped in a failing school that refuses to change, or sending a child to a better-achieving school that offers hope," he added.

But the Associated General Contractors of America said the proposed budget poses a "grave threat" to the highway construction industry and to infrastructure improvements across the country.

AGC pointed out that the budget calls for a 28 percent drop in highway funding, a $275 million cut in funding for the Army Corps of Engineers construction program and a more than 50 percent cut in federal prison funding.

"This budget compromises several U. S. construction programs and threatens to sacrifice jobs in the industry. At a time when infrastructure spending is needed most, the budget is a double-edged sword for AGC member firms and the construction industry as a whole," said Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of AGC.

The Housing Assistance Council, a rural housing organization said the proposed budget shortchanges potential homebuyers in rural areas and overlooks renters, which, they say include the neediest Americans in both rural and urban areas.

"Providing homeownership opportunities is a very good thing. But the budget proposal ignores some homebuying realities, and does not do enough for renters," said Moises Loza, executive director of the Housing Assistance Council.

"First, would-be rural homeowners with limited incomes have long relied on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's direct and guaranteed mortgage loan programs, but the administration would cut their funding while increasing a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that is often used in tandem with the USDA loans," he said.

"USDA's programs were created because other programs can't always meet rural areas' special needs," Loza noted.

"We're glad to see the administration increasing HUD's self-help homeownership program, which helps low-income people afford their homes by using their own 'sweat equity,'" he said.

"But in rural areas most of them get loans from USDA because their incomes are too low for bank loans. So increasing one program and decreasing the other is counterproductive," Loza concluded.

E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.