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The Bush budget: What's in $2.9 trillion?

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President Bush's new proposed budget represents an attempt to make permanent some of his key changes in US domestic policy, while challenging the fiscal priorities of the new Democratic- controlled Congress.

What it may not represent is an easy pathway to the land of black ink. While the White House plan projects a balanced budget by 2012, some of its assumptions about future government spending are unrealistic, say some budget analysts.

In essence, the Bush budget may promise a budgetary nirvana in the future, while avoiding some of the messy details about the way that nirvana might be reached.

"They're trying to get you to focus on 2012 instead of 2008," says Stan Collender, a veteran federal budget expert and managing director of Qorvis Communications.

The release of the massive amount of paperwork that represents the executive branch's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year is a much anticipated annual event in official Washington, like the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day, or the March return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano in California.

A president's opponents routinely deride his budget as dead on arrival. Despite this, months of congressional hearings on its details follow. In the end, much of the plan will provide a blueprint for the day-to-day operations of many federal departments and agencies.

It is the top lines of total spending and receipts, plus key budgetary assumptions, that can prove controversial. In this, President Bush's proposal for fiscal 2008 is no exception.

"I doubt that Democrats will support this budget, and frankly, I will be surprised if Republicans rally around it either," said House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D) of South Carolina, in a statement after the plan's release.

Mr. Bush's plan calls for $2.9 trillion in 2008 spending. It would make permanent his first-term tax cuts – reductions that, at this point, may well represent Bush's signature change in domestic policy.

Military spending would represent the government's largest area of growth. The Bush proposal calls for a Pentagon budget of $624.6 billion for fiscal 2008, up from $600.3 billion in 2007. Included is an estimated cost of $141.7 billion for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan – the first time war costs have been wrapped into the annual budget instead of dealt with separately in supplemental appropriations.

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