Bush estimates U.S. surplus at US$5.6 tril.


WASHINGTON, Reuters

In a budget “the size of a big city phone book and about as hard to read,” President George W. Bush on Saturday urged Americans to focus on the most important number — an estimated US$5.6 trillion surplus.

Bush said the fiscal 2002 blueprint that he sends to Congress on Wednesday after outlining his agenda in an address to a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate on Tuesday night, was “good for America.”

“The federal budget is a document about the size of a big city phone book and about as hard to read from cover to cover,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “The blueprint I submit this week contains many numbers but there is one that probably counts more than any other — US$5.6 trillion.”

Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office put the same figure on the federal government surplus over the next 10 years. It was US$1 billion more than previously estimated, setting off a renewed battle between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over how to spend the forecast windfall.

Bush is firmly committed to a 10-year, US$1.6 trillion tax cut, calling it “just right” despite opposition from Democrats who say it is too big, unfairly favors the wealthiest Americans and will leave too little to meet other urgent needs.

“A surplus in tax revenue, after all, means that taxpayers have been overcharged and usually when you’ve been overcharged, you expect to get something back,” Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Republican allies in Congress have told Bush he does not yet have enough votes to pass a budget that contains the US$1.6 trillion tax cut, but the president has disagreed, saying it was far too early in the process to reach that conclusion.

With the Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and two Republican senators publicly expressing reservations about the size of the tax cut, Bush has a job ahead of him to sell his proposal and his budget.

“Tax relief means real help for both American families and the American economy,” he said. “I hope you’ll agree that my plan is good for you and for your family but, even more, I hope you’ll agree it’s good for America.”

At the same time, Bush said he would “restrain spending” for programs other than Social Security and Medicare to “a reasonable 4 percent growth rate,” slightly above the rate of inflation.

“The plan I submit will fund our highest national priorities. … Social Security and Medicare will get every dollar they need to meet their commitments,” he said. “After paying the bills, my plan reduces the national debt, and fast.”

Given the 11 percent increase he already has announced for the Department of Education and the roughly 5 percent rise set for the Pentagon, Bush will be forced to make cuts or trim spending growth elsewhere, but he did not address that issue on Saturday. He is scheduled to take his budget message to four states this week, traveling to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Council Bluffs, Iowa on Wednesday and then to Atlanta, Georgia and Little Rock, Arkansas on Thursday.