WASHINGTON -- President Bush, vowing to tame the "explosive growth" in government, sent Congress a $1.96 trillion budget Wednesday that would curtail spending in programs ranging from farm aid to transportation to make room for the centerpiece of his economic strategy -- a $1.6 trillion tax cut.
Bush, who embarked on a two-day road trip to sell his program, declared that his 207-page budget plan, called "A Blueprint for New Beginnings," would create a federal government "that is both active to promote opportunity and limited to preserve freedom."
The budget provides "reasonable spending increases to meet needs while slowing the recent explosive growth that could threaten future prosperity," the president said in the document.
But Democrats complained that his $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax cut was too generous to the wealthy, saying $750 billion in tax relief weighted to lower income Americans would be more responsible. They also pledged during the upcoming congressional battle to protect various programs Bush is trying to trim back.
Democrats contended GOP leaders were trying to ram Bush's massive tax cut through Congress, scheduling a vote in the Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.
Bush's first budget asks Congress to approve spending of $1.96 trillion for the 2002 budget year that begins Oct. 1, and includes big boosts for favored programs such as education, drug enforcement and medical research. That would be a 5.5 percent increase from this year's projected outlays of $1.86 trillion.
However, in discretionary spending alone -- the one-third of the budget that covers everything but automatically paid benefits like Social Security -- Bush is seeking a 4 percent increase over this year. That is slightly higher than inflation but half the 8.5 percent gain approved by former President Clinton and the last Congress for the 2001 budget.
To provide for the increases in favored programs while restraining the overall figure, Bush proposed outright cuts in 10 agencies including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Justice, Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Bush, citing the weakening economy, urged Congress to speed up the tax relief he is seeking by making the tax cuts retroactive to the first of this year, contending in his budget message that this would "give our economy a timely second wind."
Additional evidence of the faltering economy arrived Wednesday, as the Commerce Department reported the economy grew at an annual rate of only 1.1 percent in the final three months of 2000, the weakest performance in more than five years.
In addition to $1.6 trillion in tax relief, the Bush budget would dedicate $2.6 trillion of a projected $5.6 trillion surplus over the next decade to reducing the debt and for a future overhaul of Social Security.
The remaining $1.4 trillion would be used to pay for revamping Medicare, including new prescription drug benefits, and creation of a "contingency" fund that could be used for new spending, added debt reduction or to help create new individual retirement accounts in Social Security.
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