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KAI RYSSDAL: $3.1 trillion is technically the magic number. A bit more than $1.5 trillion in mandatory spending — those are programs the president is obliged to fund, whether he likes it or not. Minus interest payments and a few other assorted line items, that leaves the White House with about $1.2 trillion to spend at its discretion.
So, what are we getting for all that money? From Washington, Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.
NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: The president did save some money by posting the budget online. The White House usually prints 3,000 copies.
PRESIDENT BUSH: It’s on a laptop notebook. It’s an e-budget.
But Democrats joked the president couldn’t print the budget because he ran out of red ink. The president’s budget is swelling the deficit to pay for a stimulus package plus increases in the Homeland Security and Defense budgets. To offset that, the White House is basically freezing domestic programs. And House Budget Committee Chair John Spratt says the budget doesn’t even include the full costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
JOHN SPRATT: We’ve got substantial defense costs for which we decided we would not pay now. We’d simply let the tab go to the future generations.
The budget surpluses of the Clinton era are gone now. In recent years, the government has spent more on the Medicare prescription drug program. Now, we’re spending two-thirds of our money on Social Security, Medicare and debt repayments. On the campaign trail, President Bush said he was all for small government. He promised to tackle Social Security. But budget analyst Stan Collender says he ran into a wall.
STAN COLLENDER: Most of what’s in the budget has substantial political support. And even with a Republican House and Senate he was unable to make a lot of the changes that he wanted or would have liked in a perfect world.
President Bush is still trying to force some changes. He’d whack $196 billion out of Medicare and Medicaid by cutting payments to doctors and hospitals. But the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, doubts Congress will go for that.
PAUL RYAN: Everybody’s afraid that the other political party will use the reforms against them. And so you have a standoff now.
And nobody’s standing down — especially in an election year.
In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.
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