Bangerter leery of Bush proposal, B1.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Congressional Democrats criticized President Bush's fiscal 1992 budget Tuesday, saying it ignores the recession and many of the country's social needs.But White House budget chief Richard Darman defended the $1.45 trillion-dollar spending plan, saying its emphasis on science and other initiatives is a wise ordering of priorities at a time of recession, record federal deficits and war.
"It pays little heed to the domestic economic emergency that our country is facing," said Sen. James Sasser, D-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "We are now at the beginning of what could be a sharp and deep recession."
Darman defended proposals the administration says would shift spending from upper income to lower income people in Medicare, agriculture and other programs. In one instance, the administration wants to increase the number of higher-education grants that would be available to the poor, diminishing the number available to more well-to-do students.
"Don't take poor people and start them out in life with an enormous burden of debt," Darman told the committee.
Bush's spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 makes little effort to reduce federal red ink beyond the amounts in the five-year, $500 billion deficit-reduction deal the president and Congress reached last fall.
It contains no general tax increases and a handful of tax cuts, including a reduction of the capital gains tax on sales of investments, which Democrats oppose. It proposes no major anti-recession program, as administration officials say they expect the economy to rev up again at midyear.
"By the time Congress would legislate anything, we'd be out of the recession," Darman said.
The budget forecasts a $280.9 billion deficit for fiscal 1992, which begins Oct. 1. That would be the second largest shortfall ever; the biggest is the $318.1 billion gap expected this year.
Darman and other Bush aides blamed the swelling deficit largely on the weak economy - which shrank tax revenues - and the enormous cost of rescuing the country's ailing banks and savings and loans.
But Democrats warned that the deficit could get worse.
"With war and recession staring us in the face, I would have to characterize this as a cross-your-fingers, close-your-eyes and hope-for-the-best budget," Sasser said.
The budget didn't even include the full cost of the war with Iraq, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated could cost $86 billion over the next few years.
Instead, the administration assumed a cost to the United States of $15 billion - with total spending authorization of $30 billion - and promised to come back for more when the costs become clearer. It is counting on contributions from allied nations to finance much of the war effort.
Overall, the plan adhered to spending limits in last year's budget deal. That meant an overall 2.6 percent spending increase - less than the 4.3 percent that would be needed to stay even with inflation.
It proposed 1992 defense spending - excluding gulf war costs - of $295 billion. Benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare will cost $708 billion, spending on all other domestic programs will come to $212 billion and foreign aid will come to about $20 billion.
The government will have to spend $206 billion - one-seventh of the budget - paying interest on the $3.6 trillion national debt.
Last year's budget agreement not only laid down those spending caps but forbade lawmakers from shifting funds from one category to another. Thus, officials on both sides say this year's fight will be over how the dollars in each area should be distributed.