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President Unveils $2.23 Trillion Budget, Projects Huge Deficit

By Ken Fireman
NEWSDAY -- WASHINGTON

The Bush administration Monday unveiled a proposed $2.23-trillion federal budget for 2004 that would cut taxes anew, boost spending for the military and homeland security -- and run the largest deficit in history.

Administration officials blamed the projected $307-billion deficit for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 on a confluence of several factors beyond their control, especially the need to beef up spending on security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

They said the deficit, while a record in absolute terms, was relatively small as a percentage of the total economy and would shrink over the following four years as economic growth strengthened.

“The president has chosen as his top priority the safety of Americans,” said Mitch Daniels, the White House’s top budget official. “A balanced federal budget remains an important priority for this president. And the budget we present today, even with all the new initiatives, shows deficits bottoming in this year and moving back in the direction of balance.”

But Daniels and other officials made no predictions of a return to fiscal surplus any time soon, as they had only a year ago. They also acknowledged that their proposal did not include any spending for a possible war in Iraq, which could further swell the deficit by tens of billions of dollars.

Democrats immediately attacked the proposal as the product of “the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history,” as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) put it. They complained that President Bush was asking for sacrifices from the middle class in the form of constrained spending on many domestic programs while showering new tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) poured scorn on the administration’s contention that the deficits were caused by increased spending on the military and homeland security, and not by the president’s $1.35-billion tax cut that was enacted in 2001.