Bush Sends Congress “Most Fiscally Irresponsible Budget” in History

President Bush sent Congress a $2.4 trillion spending plan yesterday that would slash next year’s funding for nearly half the federal government’s agencies while funneling large sums to the military and so-called anti-terrorism programs. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) called it, "the most fiscally irresponsible budget in our nation’s history."

Noticeably absent from Bush’s budget is money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. White House budget director Joshua Bolten estimated that another $50 billion would be needed to cover those costs next year. The White House says it expects to cover the war costs with supplemental funds after next fall’s elections. Some analysts have pointed out that this $50 billion is not included in the deficit calculations. Democrats complained that the omission was yet another way the administration was trying to low-ball both the deficit and the cost of postwar Iraq.

The largest increase in discretionary spending is proposed for the Defense Department, where spending would rise from $375 billion this year to $402 billion. Funding of programs to promote homeland security would rise 9.7 percent, from $28 billion to $30 billion.

At times, the budget itself reads like campaign material for the Bush-Cheney reelection effort. It’s deepest cuts are targeted at environmental, educational and agriculture spending. It calls for the elimination or curtailing of some 128 federal programs. The budget would give Health and Human Services an extra $135 million for "biosurveillance" but would cut $400 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Environmental Protection Agency would see a 7.2 percent spending cut.

The reductions reach even into realms of government the White House has cited as domestic priorities, such as education and health care. For example, Bush highlighted a $250 million expansion of Labor Department job-training funds in his State of the Union address last month, but his budget would trim existing vocational education programs within the Education Department by $300 million.

Proposed cuts involve funding for dropout prevention programs, literacy programs for prisoners and an arts-in-education program. The department’s overall budget, however, would grow by 3 percent. The document shows that the budget would eliminate a Labor Department training program for migrant and seasonal farm workers, a Small Business Administration micro-loan program, and a Justice Department program to help state and local governments pay for "community policing" programs.

In places, the four volumes read like political documents. The opening pages borrow language from Bush fundraising speeches and outline "a record of accomplishment." The glossy pages are scattered with images of the president, many of them in photographs with black or elderly Americans. The budget also draws greater attention to several old proposals popular with social conservatives, including grants to promote marriages, which the White House has advocated for two years.

Army Study of Iraq War Details a 'Morass' of Supply Shortages

This from the New York Times. The first official Army history of the Iraq war reveals that American forces were plagued by a "morass" of supply shortages: radios that could not reach far-flung troops, disappointing psychological operations and virtually no reliable intelligence on how Saddam Hussein would defend Baghdad.

Logistics problems, which senior Army officials played down at the time, were much worse than have previously been reported. While the study serves mainly as a technical examination of how the Army performed and the problems it faced, it could also serve as a political document that could advance the Army’s interests within the Pentagon.

Tank engines sat on warehouse shelves in Kuwait with no truck drivers to take them north. Broken-down trucks were scavenged for usable parts. Artillery units cannibalized parts from captured Iraqi guns to keep their howitzers operating. Army medics foraged medical supplies from combat hospitals.

The findings are contained in a 504-page internal Army history of the war written by the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. It draws on interviews with 2,300 people, 68,000 photographs and nearly 120,000 documents.

Powell May Not Have Supported Invasion If He Knew Iraq Had No WMDs

In an interview with the Washington Post, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that he does not know whether he would have recommended an invasion of Iraq if he had been told it had no stockpiles of banned weapons.

Powell conceded that the administration’s conviction that Hussein already had such weapons had made the case for war more urgent. Asked if he would have recommended an invasion knowing Iraq had no prohibited weapons, Powell replied, "I don’t know, because it was the stockpile that presented the final little piece that made it more of a real and present danger and threat to the region and to the world." He said the "absence of a stockpile changes the political calculus; it changes the answer you get."

Powell said, history will ultimately judge that the war "was the right thing to do."

Powell is widely perceived to have placed his credibility on the line last Feb. 5 when he appeared before the United Nations Security Council and offered a forceful and detailed description of the U.S. case that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. In that appearance, Powell told the council: "What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."

Asked yesterday whether "the country is owed an explanation about the Iraq intelligence failures," President Bush responded, "Well, first of all, I want to know all the facts.... What we don’t know yet is what we thought and what the Iraqi Survey Group has found, and we want to look at that."

Voters Head to Polls for “Super Seven”

Voters in seven states across the country will be picking a Democrat presidential nominee today in the biggest day of the 2004 campaign so far.

Primaries or caucuses open in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina. The "Super Seven" as they are called are seen as more of a national test for candidates than the earlier votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Senator John Kerry won both those state contests and is seen as the front-runner to be selected to face President Bush in the presidential election in November. Polls suggest he is in the lead or very close in all seven states.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence McAuliffe has said he plans to urge every candidate who fails to win today to pack up. We’ll have more on this later in the show.

Bush Approval Ratings Hit Record Lows

A new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll predicts that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry would defeat President Bush if the election were held today. Kerry defeated Bush 53% to 46%, a lead outside the poll’s margin of error. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards edged Bush at 49%-48%, a statistical tie. Bush bested former Vermont governor Howard Dean by 7 points and retired Army general Wesley Clark by 3.

Meanwhile, Bush’s job-approval rating dipped below 50% for the first time in his presidency. His approval ratings for handling the economy, Iraq and health care all fell to near-record lows. Support for going to war with Iraq also dipped below 50% for the first time, to 49%. The proportion of Americans who were certain that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to develop them before the war fell dramatically. More than four in 10 said the administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq had the banned weapons.

Lethal Poison Found in Frist’s Office

A powder found in an office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist tested positive yesterday for the lethal poison ricin prompting authorities to impose tight security and carry out street-side decontaminations.

Parts of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where the powder was found, remained closed early this morning, while a definitive test was conducted on the powder.

Witnesses said that several people apparently had undergone decontamination last night in a van parked outside the building and that as many as 40 people in all would undergo the process before being sent home.

According to officials, the powder was discovered in Room 454, which was described as a mailroom that is part of Frist’s offices.

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