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Democrats Call Bush Funding Proposals Misleading to Public

By Dana Milbank

Several new programs that President Bush proposed in the buildup to his fiscal 2004 budget have turned out to be somewhat smaller than they first appeared.

On topics including AIDS funding, mentoring and homeland security, Democrats have accused the president of misleading the public. But Bush aides say the president’s budget proposals, released Monday, back up his promises.

Thursday, Bush burnished his green credentials by promoting an initiative to produce hydrogen-powered cars. “I’m asking Congress to spend $1.2 billion on a new national commitment to take hydrogen fuel cell cars from the laboratory to the showroom,” Bush, echoing his State of the Union address, said after examining fuel-cell technologies at the National Building Museum.

But a fact sheet distributed Thursday by the White House stated that $720 million of the $1.2 billion is in “new funding.” The rest -- 40 percent -- is the government’s existing fuel-cell spending.

Democratic lawmakers accused the president of repackaging existing programs to conceal his preference for expanded energy drilling. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) a Democratic presidential candidate, called the counting of existing funds “a shell game,” adding: “Rumors of this administration’s commitment to hydrogen fuel cells are greatly exaggerated.”

Amy Call, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, defended the administration’s consistency. “The president has made clear his priorities, outlined them, and his budget reflects them very clearly,” she said.

In his State of the Union address, Bush proposed spending $15 billion to combat AIDS overseas over five years. He said that $10 billion of that would be in new funds.

His 2004 budget plan, however, called for spending $1 billion -- of which $450 million would be new funding, OMB said.