MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Here's a snapshot of today's White House budget request. It calls for spending a total of just under three trillion dollars. We'll try to break that down a bit for you.
NORRIS: Okay, a little more than half of that three trillion would go to mandatory programs. Those are entitlements that the U.S. committed to in previous budgets. Social security would get about $600 billion of that. Another $600 billion or so goes to Medicare and Medicaid, and another $300 for other similar federal programs.
SIEGEL: So that's 52 percent of the budget. Add another $260 billion to pay back money the government borrowed to cover the deficit and you're up to 60 percent.
NORRIS: Which leaves the rest for spending that's considered discretionary, and most of that goes to the Pentagon and other security programs.
SIEGEL: Everything else fits into only 15 percent of the pie, about $450 billion.
NORRIS: So that's a broad look at three trillion dollars. Our reporters now will get a little more specific.
And we're going to begin with NPR's David Greene at the White House.
DAVID GREENE: Being the White House budget director is not the sexiest job in Washington. But once a year, you get to come out in front of the cameras to unveil some of the new ideas that have captured the president's imagination. Here's Mr. Bush's budget director, Rob Portman.
Mr. ROB PORTMAN (Office of the Management and Budget): We are proposing today an exciting new plan called the National Park Centennial Initiative. This new program will provide up to three billion dollars over the next 10 years in new federal and private spending to help achieve new levels of excellence in our national parks.
GREENE: But as it turns out, the national parks are pretty lucky. Scores of programs across the federal government - including, for example, Medicare and Medicaid - are being squeezed hard in Mr. Bush's budget. In large part, this is so the U.S. can continue fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president is asking for about quarter trillion dollars in new spending for those wars over just the next 20 months. That would mean as of 2008, the U.S. will have spent more than $700 billion on those military conflicts.
But one of the mysteries of the budget released today is that spending for these wars is projected to drop dramatically in the very next budget year, which includes a relatively small $50 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. Budget director Portman said that's a very rough estimate.
Mr. PORTMAN: We call it an allowance, and it's a notion that we believe there will still be war costs in 2009. We have no idea what those costs will be.
GREENE: The war began with a far different attitude towards its potential cost. Just before the war in Iraq began in 2003, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, told members of Congress that Iraq would likely bare much of the burden itself.
Dr. PAUL WOLFOWITZ (Former Deputy Defense Secretary): It's got already, I believe, on the order of $15 to $20 billion a year in oil exports, which can finally, might finally be turned to a good use instead of building Saddam's palaces.
GREENE: Wolfowitz said that to assume the U.S. would be funding the war was, quote, "just wrong." Today, President Bush emerged from a cabinet meeting to say security remains his priority and that the cost of the wars would have to continue. As for the sudden drop off in 2009 and beyond, the president said it did not amount to a timetable for withdrawal.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: There will be no timetable set. And the reason why is because we don't want to send mixed signals to an enemy or to a struggling democracy or to our troops.
GREENE: But with the military options open and costs unknown, the White House nevertheless insisted today that its new budget can erase the federal deficit by 2012. One official called that projection very, very safe. Here's the president.
President BUSH: And I strongly believe Congress needs to listen to a budget, which has no tax increase, and a budget because of fiscal discipline that can be balanced in five years.
GREENE: This promise met with enormous skepticism on Capitol Hill. Democrats said the president was making it especially hard to balance the budget, because he's at the same time insisting that tax cuts passed on his watch be made permanent. The difference this year is that Democrats are now the majority in Congress. So John Spratt, the House budget chairman, spoke with a new level of confidence.
Representative JOHN SPRATT (Democrat, South Carolina): We'll give the president a fair hearing on his budget. We think we probably have different priorities. Hopefully, we can converge. We'll see.
GREENE: And so that will be a convergence well worth watching.
David Greene, NPR News, the White House.