PRESIDENT hopes to avoid budget fight with Congress

Sunday, August 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) _ President Bush offered conciliatory words Saturday about the 2002 budget, one day after warning Congress against excessive spending. ``I don't think we have to fight,'' he said.

The president spoke after he had taken a chain saw to some dead trees clustered in a wide creek bed on his ranch. Chuckling, he told reporters that the canyon, lined with rocky cliffs and sticky brush, ``is a wonderful spot to come up here and think about the budget.''

Bush said Congress generally has been cooperative when it comes to his major budget priorities, especially the tax cut that he insisted Saturday was prudent despite the sour economy.

``And I appreciate that very much,'' Bush said.

But the real proof, he said, is what House and Senate appropriators do with his proposed defense budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. He expressed hope that lawmakers will stick closely to his level ``so we avoid a fight.''

``We'll see whether or not there's the commitment to make national defense a priority,'' Bush said. ``Members of both parties are, you know, saying, 'Well, we need to spend more on this, that and the other,' and that's good.

``I will fight for an education and a national defense funding that I think is at the appropriate level. But I don't think we have to fight,'' Bush said. ``Fight isn't the right word yet.''

Bush uttered what sounded like fighting words in his weekly radio address earlier Saturday. He called his tax cut ``the right policy at exactly the right time to boost our sagging economy,'' and said, as he did on Friday, that congressional spending habits could do more harm to the federal budget surplus and the nation's fiscal recovery.

``The greatest threat to our budget outlook is the danger that Congress will be tempted this fall to break its earlier commitments by spending too much,'' Bush said. ``The old way in Washington is to believe that the more you spend, the more you care. ... My administration takes a new approach. We want to spend your hard-earned money as carefully as you do.''

As part of that effort, Bush said the White House Office of Management and Budget had identified ''14 long-neglected management problems in the federal government and (was) offering specific solutions to fix them.''

``Americans demand top-quality service from the private sector. They should get the same top-quality service from their government,'' he said.

In the Democrats' address, Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina cited White House figures in saying the surplus shrank from $2.5 trillion to $38 billion in just eight months as a direct result of Bush's policies _ and may evaporate if the economy does not turn around as quickly as the president hopes.

Spratt, senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said this year's $90 billion budget surplus is gone, and the $28 billion surplus for the Medicaid trust fund will be ``totally consumed,'' which means Congress may tap into the Social Security trust fund for between $5 billion and $10 billion.

``The president next blames the disappearance of the surplus on excessive spending,'' Spratt said. ``But all of the extra spending since he came to office is spending that he initiated or approved.''