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Selling the President's Budget Plan

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, now a bigger picture of the budget that President Bush proposed today. And joining us is Stan Collender, a former Capitol Hill budget-staffer and the author of the Budget Battles column in the National Journal. Welcome to the program.

Mr. STAN COLLENDER (Qorvis Communications): Good to be here.

SIEGEL: The president issues a budget. How significant is it?

Mr. COLLENDER: Well, it's supposed to be and at one time was the most significant step in the process, and even to this day, 95 percent of what the president proposes will eventually get accepted by Congress without change because it's non-controversial, nuts and bolts kinds of things.

But increasingly, the president's budget is just a political statement, and in this particular case, this budget was not just dead on arrival, it was probably dead before typesetting. The president's included in his numbers things that are not likely to happen but excluded things that will happen.

SIEGEL: For example.

Mr. COLLENDER: Well for example, the president hasn't included anything for the alternative minimum tax, which if it's not fixed will result in the U.S. equivalent of the peasants storming the White House with pitchforks. That is, it'll be the biggest increase in taxes on the middle class. The administration is for that change, Congress is for that change, it will be fixed, but it's not included in the budget.

SIEGEL: So the budget shows - it's a rosier picture about revenue projections than it really will be once it gets around to fixing the AMT.

Mr. COLLENDER: Well, that's not all. It's also a rosy forecast about spending. The president, yes, he's included a lot of money for the cost of activities in Iraq and Afghanistan this time around, but only for 2008. You know, we know for sure that there will still be troops there, that there will still be costs involved for some time after 2008. So there's lower spending, and that's how the president gets the deficit eliminated.

SIEGEL: So should we read it simply as an interesting political document, second cousin to a State of the Union address?

Mr. COLLENDER: Almost exactly, maybe not even a second cousin, maybe a first cousin. This is a statement the president's making today. It's not necessarily what he believes is going to happen, it's not necessarily what he actually wants to have happen, but it gets a great deal of attention because it's the one time all year the president takes his, or at some point her, complete program, puts it in a package and sends it up to Capitol Hill.

SIEGEL: Well, Stan Collender, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. COLLENDER: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Stan Collender writes the column Budget Battles for National Journal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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