Will Budget Time Be a Bipartisan Event?
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
Now when we tell you that President Bush is proposing three trillion dollars in spending, we should mention that we're rounding up. The true figure is $2.9 trillion. That includes a lot of money for Iraq and Afghanistan. And Democrats are criticizing this plan even before the four-volume document arrives on Capitol Hill.
Joining us now, as she does every Monday morning for some analysis I should say, is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: You know it's just a few years ago the president got in trouble for proposing $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, and now we've got this figure of $245 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. What's the reception likely to be for that?
ROBERTS: Not good, I think it's fair to say. It's obviously a huge number and it's underlining the cost in Iraq beyond the cost of lives. And by the way, the Iraqi Interior Ministry reports that 1,000 lives were lost last week.
The administration says that Congress has been complaining that the cost of these wars is hidden, that it hasn't been in the budget. That now it's there, and that the Congress should at least be grateful for that - that it's out in the open and they can debate it.
But look, Steve, the Iraq and Afghanistan money is the tip of the iceberg in budget wrangling. There's almost a half a trillion dollars for the Pentagon reportedly in this budget. Cuts in the big health programs: Medicare, the program for the elderly, Medicaid, the program for the poor. An extension of the Bush tax cuts while projecting that the federal government will continue to collect the very controversial alternative minimum tax. And all of that getting to a surplus in five years in 2012. The Democrats predictably say none of this will happen. And if the past is any indication, they are right.
INSKEEP: And as everybody was waiting for these numbers, the president went and visited Democrats over the weekend. How did that go?
ROBERTS: Well he made very nice and apparently was quite affable. Some Democrats were mad at him for his comment about the Democrat Party in the State of the Union message, and he said he was never very good at diction; he was there to represent the Republic Party. That apparently got a laugh.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: This is the tendency to say Democrat Party instead of Democratic Party.
ROBERTS: That's right. But, you know, for the people who think that something needs to be done in Washington, it's better for the president to go than not to go to a retreat like this. As Speaker Pelosi has said, look, our choice here is bipartisanship or stalemate. So to try to be bipartisan is clearly the way to go, but today in the Senate it looks like we could be heading for a purely partisan vote.
INSKEEP: You're talking about the debate that begins today over Iraq and the troop increase in Iraq and a resolution that disapproves of that.
ROBERTS: Well, yes. And there are a couple of resolutions out there. But Republicans, particularly those who are up in 2008, want to show their unhappiness with the course of the war, and they worked with Democrats to craft a bipartisan resolution disapproving of the president's policy and troop surge. And then there are other resolutions, some approving the president, some trying to make Democrats vote on a straight up or down vote on the war.
But the White House is nervous about this. They don't want a vote of no confidence, which is essentially what this would be even though it's not a binding resolution. So they're trying to get the Republicans to vote on a procedural motion with the administration, and that would have the effect of not voting on any of these resolutions. And Republicans, even those Republicans who have written these resolutions and sponsored them, are indicating they might vote with the administration to cut off debate.
INSKEEP: You're saying that some Republicans might vote against debating a measure that they actually support?
ROBERTS: This is why explaining the Congress is always a little bit tricky. But if you can somehow let it be known to the voters that you disapprove of the war but let it be known to the White House that you're not actually going to cast that vote that puts the president in a weakened position, according to the White House, that would be something that would work for a lot of senators. It's very complicated but it is the way that they might go today.
Look, neither side knows what they want to do here, Steve. Democrats meeting in their winter meeting over the weekend also were very puzzled about how to handle their votes on this war.
INSKEEP: Well I'm glad you're here to help us understand it all as best we can. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us every Monday morning.