Neugebauer, Stenholm differ on 2005 budget

Congressmen Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas) and Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) expressed mostly opposing sentiments on the Bush Administration's recently proposed 2005 budget, which tops $2.4 trillion.

Both expressed concern over probable cuts in agricultural spending and supported increased fiscal responsibility but apparently agree on little else. Following Texas' recent re-districting plan, Neugebauer and Stenholm will vie for the same congressional seat in November elections. Expressing differences regarding the proposed budget could be one of the first volleys in what many consider will be an extremely close election.

“I am very concerned with the proposed reductions in agriculture spending and will follow this very closely throughout the budget process,” Neugebauer said. “While there are increases for food safety programs, that should not come by breaking the promises made in the Farm Bill and conservation programs that will help West Texas deal with its growing water shortages.”

Stenholm expressed “disappointment and concern” for the proposed budget for fiscal year 2005 while Neugebauer praised Bush for his intent “to cut the federal deficit in half over the next five years.

“I fully support that goal, and believe that through continued economic growth and Congress bringing its spending problem under control, that critical goal can be achieved and our children and grandchildren can have a better future.”

Neugebauer also commended President Bush for his commitment to fund the fight against terrorism. “I believe the President's proposed budget sets clear priorities for our nation that he and I share — winning the war on terrorism, improving our homeland security and continuing the economic recovery that his policies helped make a reality,” he said.“Our servicemen and women deserve increased support … and this budget provides that extra help. Congress must now work to maintain those three priorities, but make it more of a priority to reduce the deficit.”

Stenholm agrees that defense support is vital but questions why increased funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is not included in Bush's budget.

“The budget fails to include any spending for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “We should make it clear to the troops stationed overseas on 12-month rotations that we will provide the resources they need rather than play games with the budget.”

Stenholm agrees that Congress must clamp down on a deficit that is rapidly spiraling out of control.

“Our nation is being threatened with an economic perfect storm consisting of record deficits largely financed by foreign investors, large and growing trade deficits, and the approaching retirement of the baby boom generation,” Stenholm said. “Unfortunately, the President's budget fails to prepare our nation to deal with these economic dangers. His budget leaves our nation with large structural deficits that will be on the rise after the five-year budget window used by OMB.”

Neugebauer quipped that the budget problem “is not mad cow, but too many congressional sacred cows. As a father and small business owner, I had to make tough economic decisions for my family just like most every American family does. Congress should have that same fiscal discipline.”

Stenholm supports increased fiscal discipline from Congress. He said he was pleased with the proposed reinstatement of discretionary spending limits and PAYGO rules but said the proposal did not go far enough.

“I have been a long-time proponent of budget enforcement legislation — the idea that Congress and the President should not make the deficit worse,” he said. “If we are going to restore much needed fiscal discipline to Washington, we must apply budget rules to all legislation that would increase the deficit.”

Estimates indicate that the U.S. deficit could hit $675 billion in fiscal year 2004 and drop only to $543 billion in fiscal year 2005. Stenholm says those two figures represent the largest deficit years in U.S. history. Both figures exclude the Social Security surplus.

Stenholm said the deficit is not likely to shrink much by the end of the decade, running more than $450 billion a year and up to $501 billion in 2009.

Stenholm also mentioned the ballooning national debt, which could exceed $10 trillion in early 2009, as a major concern.

Stenholm also criticized the Bush Administration for glossing over “long-term budget problems by showing only the budget outlook for the next five years. In the second five years, the costs of making the tax cuts permanent and the growing costs of the Medicare prescription drug benefit will again cause rising deficits just as the costs of the baby boom retirement start to hit.

“It is irresponsible to talk about making tax cuts permanent before we deal with our country's pressing budget problems. I will support the President's proposals to restrain spending, but that alone will not get our fiscal house in order.”

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