WASHINGTON -- Space exploration proposals that President Bush is preparing to put into his next budget will not undermine his administration's goal of cutting the federal deficit in half within five years, Treasury Secretary John Snow said yesterday.
Snow said the new space proposals, which include a permanent settlement on the moon and setting a goal of sending Americans to Mars, will be undertaken "within a framework of fiscal responsibility."
Snow said the administration's budget, which will be sent to Congress on Feb. 2, will outline the space proposals plus a plan to cut the record budget deficits in half through a combination of stronger economic growth and spending restraint.
"We can do both. We really can," Snow said in an interview on ABC's "This Week." "This is a country of enormous resources, and we have the capacity to pursue a number of priorities at one time, but we have to do so within the framework of fiscal responsibility. I think you'll see that reflected in the budget."
Snow said Bush was "not one to shy away from bold visions."
The Commerce secretary, Donald Evans, agreed that Bush's space ideas are audacious, but he rejected the suggestion that Americans might consider the plans' probable cost wasteful at a time when millions of people are unemployed and the country is facing other expensives.
"America has always needed a challenge of a big and bold idea," Evans said on CNN's "Late Edition." "I can also tell you that this program will be within a responsible fiscal budget, because the president knows, once again, the basic ingredients to growing an economy and creating more jobs are cutting taxes and controlling spending."
"Whatever the program is, however big it is," Evans said, "it will be within a responsible fiscal budget."
In previewing Bush's official announcement, to be made this week, White House aides did not discuss the costs of the project. During his presidency, Bush's father proposed a less-ambitious mission, putting Americans on Mars, and did not mention a moon base. The cost of that enterprise was projected at $400 billion to $500 billion in 1989 dollars, far too rich for Congress to consider.
Two members of the current Congress, both Democratic contenders to take Bush's job, said yesterday that the president's moon-Mars ideas appeared to be misplaced priorities.
"I haven't looked at the numbers lately, but I don't know that we can go off on a new moon mission or Mars mission, if that's the suggestion, and just have the money to do something in addition to completing the space station," said Representative Richard A. Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri, interviewed on CBS's "Face the Nation" from Des Moines.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, said that as much as he admires the space program -- President Kennedy's moon program was an early attraction to politics -- he would prefer to spend the money on an "American Center for Cures" to diseases. "If we had that kind of money . . . frankly I think that's more important to the American people," said Lieberman, speaking on "Late Edition" from New Hampshire.
Snow said the administration remains confident that the economy is beginning to rebound at a strong enough rate to make a significant dent in the unemployment rate.