REPORT FROM CONGRESS
By Congressman Roger F. Wicker
WICKER: PRESIDENT'S BUDGET PROVIDES SOLID FOUNDATION
February 14, 2005
President Bush submitted his 2006 budget to Congress last week with recommendations to boost defense and homeland security funding and impose spending restraints on a number of domestic programs. While the proposal will surely undergo changes as the budget process unfolds, it provides a solid foundation from which to work.
I was fortunate to be reappointed to another term on the House Budget Committee. Our Budget panel wasted no time in holding hearings on Mr. Bush's budget. We heard testimony from Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolten, Treasury Secretary John Snow, and other Administration leaders in support of the President's priorities.
Committee members quizzed them about the budget plan and sought more information regarding the President's Social Security reform proposals. I told OMB Director Bolten I looked forward to hearing details about creating personal accounts for today's workers while ensuring the solvency of the Social Security System for every beneficiary.
SECURITY INTERESTS PARAMOUNT
The Administration officials' budget message to lawmakers and to the American people was that national security is our highest priority. To fight terrorism at home and abroad and defend freedom, the Department of Defense would get a 4.8 percent boost over 2005. Homeland security funds would be increased by eight percent.
The budget is projected to cut non-security discretionary spending by one percent, the first such reduction since the Reagan Administration. The effort involves eliminating or reducing more than 150 federal programs. Government agencies would be required to meet tougher performance standards to ensure tax dollars are being spent efficiently. The President's goal is to cut the budget deficit in half by 2009.
USING TAX DOLLARS WISELY
As a member of the Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Task Force in the House, I welcome the emphasis on making our federal agencies more accountable. I participated in a debate on the House floor last week in support of this effort. I made the point during our discussion that every penny wasted or lost to fraud is money that could go to programs that benefit the American people.
One of my colleagues noted in the debate that there are 342 federal programs focused on economic development, more than 50 agencies to aid to the homeless, and another 50 programs responsible for waging the war on drugs. These are only three examples of duplication of services and waste that can be found throughout the government. A Treasury Department report revealed that government auditors could not account for more than $17 billion during Fiscal Year 2001. We can certainly do a better job of making sure our tax dollars are used wisely.
PRO-GROWTH POLICIES WORKING
The President's budget also proposes to build on the pro-growth policies that have stimulated our economy. The gross domestic product grew at a rate of four percent in the third quarter of 2004, and 146,000 jobs were created in January. Since May 2003, more than 2.7 million people have been added to the workforce. Homeownership is at its highest level in history. Adopting new business development incentives and making already-enacted tax relief provisions permanent will strengthen these advances.
It is no surprise that many lawmakers from across the country would disagree with Mr. Bush on the budget. While this proposal provides a framework, the final version is certain to undergo many changes to reflect the differing priorities of members of Congress in both parties. Our challenge is to find a consensus that will strengthen national security and continue the economic progress we have made over the past four years.