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Bush to seek $190 billion for prescription plan

By Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will seek $190 billion for a new Medicare-based prescription drug benefit in his upcoming budget, a spending document that will boost discretionary government spending by 7 percent but seek far larger growth in spending on defense and homeland security at the same time, according to administration and congressional sources.

The Bush budget also will project a budget deficit between $75 billion and $100 billion, the sources said. The size of the projected deficit will depend on the size of the economic stimulus package Congress approves. The Bush budget assumes a stimulus bill will pass this year, although Senate Democrats blocked the White House-backed plan late last year.

The president huddled Thursday at the White House with the two top GOP budget-writers, Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa and Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico. Nussle is chairman of the House Budget Committee and will write the House GOP version of the Bush budget. Domenici is the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

After meeting with Bush, the lawmakers said the president would seek significant increases in defense and homeland security spending. When combined with the additional spending and tax cuts in the president's economic stimulus plan, the lawmakers said increases in defense and homeland security will exceed 9 percent.

Budget Director Mitch Daniels has said spending on homeland security could be twice the current outlays of $12 billion.

The president will submit his budget to Congress in early February. The president will propose a larger growth in spending than he sought in his first budget, when he attempted to limit the overall growth of discretionary spending to 4 percent.

The bigger Bush budget reflects the political reality of having to boost nondefense spending instead of asking Congress to cut this spending in order to pay for increased outlays in defense and homeland security.. In essence, Bush will seek to pacify all spending constituencies. Administration officials said the Bush budget will not seek any significant spending reductions.

The Medicare drug benefit will mirror administration proposals from last year. Democrats have criticized the benefit as too small and oppose administration demands that a top-to-bottom overhaul of Medicare accompany any prescription drug benefit. Administration officials and GOP lawmakers are doubtful the Medicare issues will be resolved in an election year.




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