Democrats were in a full-court press yesterday, criticizing President Bush for an administration document they say directs federal agencies to prepare preliminary 2006 budgets that cut spending for education, veterans benefits and other key programs after the 2004 election.
The document from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is meant as a guide to federal agencies as they begin to prepare their budget proposals for the 2006 fiscal year. The Washington Post first reported the memo yesterday.
It directs associate directors and deputies of federal programs to "assume accounts are funded at the 2006 level specified in the 2005 budget database," and, if they propose any increase above that level, it must be offset with cuts in other areas.
This would mean cuts to the Education Department, Veterans Affairs Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and employment and health programs, among others, according to an analysis from Democrats on the House Budget Committee.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign were among the first to jump on the story, saying Mr. Bush is campaigning on health care and other initiatives while quietly planning to slash funding for them in 2006.
"In my opinion, this is the beginning of the end of the hide-the-ball budget strategy of this administration," said Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, who spoke on behalf of Mr. Kerry's campaign in a conference call yesterday with reporters. "We are retreating from our domestic priorities."
Mr. Graham said that even though the president campaigned yesterday at health care facilities, some health care programs would be cut under the 2006 directions. Among other things, Mr. Graham said, Veterans Affairs would see a $910 million cut from fiscal 2005 to 2006, meaning it wouldn't be able to absorb all of the combat wounded and would probably have to reduce access, increase fees or cut health care staff.
"I'm sure George W. Bush is not intentionally crisscrossing the nation at taxpayer expense, touting his support for programs that he actually intends to cut should he return to office," DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera said.
"It appears President Bush is implementing a 'cut and run' strategy of cutting investment in important domestic programs ... and running away from his campaign promises to support them," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
A White House spokesman dismissed the political hubbub, saying the OMB document is just "routine guidance" and no official policy decisions have been made on the 2006 budget.
"[A]ny speculation at this point about the 2006 budget really has no basis in fact, because no decisions have been made and they won't be made for months," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "This president will continue to work to make sure we fund our highest priorities, while restraining spending elsewhere in the budget."
Rich Meade, chief of staff for Republicans on the House Budget Committee, said Democrats are perpetuating an "unbelievable, imaginary plan to cut the budget." He said the OMB document cited is "just a starting point" and "not where we're going to end up" because every administration gives similar guidance to its agencies early in the budget process.
Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, praised the reports of 2006 cuts, however.
"I believe that voters recognize that federal spending is out of control and that fiscal discipline is needed," Mr. Flake said. "I'm encouraged that President Bush is taking the lead."
Democrats aren't planning to drop the issue. Today, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe will hold a press conference showing video clips of President Bush touting programs Democrats say he intends to cut.