WASHINGTON -- President Bush today will send Congress a $2.9 trillion spending request that seeks billions of dollars more to fight the Iraq war and tries to restrain the cost of the government's big health care programs.
Responding to the new political realities of a Democratic-controlled Congress, Bush will propose balancing the budget in five years, matching a goal put forward by Democratic leaders. But Bush would achieve that feat while protecting his cherished first-term tax cuts.
The arrival of the massive four-volume set of green budget books, which will cover the budget year that begins Oct. 1, will be followed by months of debate in Congress.
Democrats asserted that Bush wants to make painful cuts across a wide swath of government programs to protect his tax cuts and to keep funneling money to the unpopular Iraq war.
"It just gives you sticker shock. Every time you turn around it's another $100 billion," Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and Democrat of North Dakota, said of Bush's war spending.
The federal deficit hit an all-time high of $413 billion under Bush in 2004. It has been declining since that time and the 2008 budget projects it will continue to decline and show a surplus in 2012, three years after Bush leaves office.
To accomplish those reductions, Bush would allow only modest growth in the government programs outside of defense and homeland security.
He is proposing elimination or sharp reductions in 141 government programs, for a savings over five years of $12 billion, although Congress has rejected many of the same proposals over the past two years.
Bush will also seek to trim spending on farm subsidies by $18 billion over five years, mainly by reducing payments to wealthier farmers, an effort certain to spark resistance among farm state lawmakers.
Bush's budget calls for nearly $100 billion in savings over five years by trimming increases in Medicare, the health program for 43 million retirees and disabled, and Medicaid, which provides health care to the poor.
The restraints in Medicare spending would total $66 billion over five years, while the savings in Medicaid would total $12.7 billion.
Most of the Medicare savings would come in slowing the growth of payments to hospitals and other health care providers. But $11.5 billion in savings would come from boosting insurance premiums paid by the wealthiest Medicare recipients, those making more than $80,000 annually for individuals and $160,000 for married couples.
More people would be forced to pay the higher monthly premiums because the administration would stop indexing the income levels for inflation. Bush also wants to make high-income Medicare recipients pay more for drug coverage, in addition to the higher premium they now pay on the insurance for doctors' visits.
These proposals are certain to generate stiff opposition in Congress, which refused to go along with smaller Medicare reductions Bush proposed last year.