Even before President Bush's next budget hits Capitol Hill,
lawmakers even in his own party are mounting barricades against what
many see as a spending binge that's settling into a habit.
The internal revolt, coming from dozens of Republican lawmakers,
signals that Mr. Bush faces a rift within his own party over one of
its core ideological tenets - smaller government - even as he faces
growing criticism on the issue from Democratic presidential
Bush has not entirely dropped the goal of fiscal restraint. This
week he called on Congress to "cut the deficit in half over the next
five years." But to some observers, Bush and his party have been
looking more like the party of big government than small. Behind the
scenes, the GOP debate now is whether big spending has become the
price of retaining political power in today's America - or an
intolerable breach of the party's principles.
Most experts agree that recent forecasts of US fiscal health are
* Deficits are expected to reach or exceed $5 trillion over the
next decade, according to new studies by groups ranging from the
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to Goldman Sachs.
* The federal budget deficit this year is expected to approach
$500 billion. That's a record, although sustainable in the short
term if the economy grows fast enough.
* The Medicare system is expected to go cash negative for the
first time in 2015; Social Security in 2018.
"It's a system that's completely out of control, and it's an
absolute disgrace," says Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, commenting
on the runaway spending on Capitol Hill.
In his one reference to the deficit in this week's State of the
Union address, President Bush promised to submit a budget that
limits the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent
and halve the deficit in five years. When he also urged lawmakers to
make his tax cuts permanent, Republicans cheered. Democrats sat in
"What we have here is an administration that has overseen the
largest fiscal reversal in our nation's history.... Unless we change
course, we are left with deficits as far as the eye can see," says
Rep. John Spratt (D) of South Carolina, ranking member on the House
Budget Committee, who pegs the cost of making tax cuts permanent at
$2.5 trillion over 20 years.
Many Republicans worry that tax cuts without significant spending
cuts cannot be sustained. …