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Failed Budget Talks All Cheney's Fault

Steven Weisman goes to his favorite deficit "Cassandra," Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. Plus more "deep cuts" that are actually slowdowns in spending growth.

Steven Weisman blamed Republicans for scuttling secret budget talks in Thursday's "2-Party Talks on Budget Fall Apart Amid Friction." His source? Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, who Weisman on Tuesday approvingly termed "the biggest Cassandra in Congress about the perils of continued deficits."

"A leading Democratic senator said Wednesday that previously undisclosed behind-the-scenes bipartisan budget talks with the administration had collapsed because of comments by Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the administration.

"The senator, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, also accused the administration of undercutting the possibility of talks by refusing to signal a willingness to compromise on taxes to save Social Security and Medicare or to balance the budget in the years ahead.

"Mr. Conrad made his comments at a hearing with Rob Portman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, who defended the $2.9 trillion plan that the Bush administration submitted on Monday. The proposal has deep spending and benefits cuts, increased military spending and a call for continued tax cuts."

Administration officials finally got to challenge Conrad's assertion, in the very last sentence, and weakly, without direct quotes: "Administration officials said Mr. Cheney had meant only to say the administration had its own ideas, including preserving tax cuts and setting up individual investment accounts to replace Social Security for some future retirees."

Thursday's lead editorial made the same "deep cuts" argument in more partisan tones, attacking Bush's budget: "sharp reductions are envisioned for Medicare, with cuts of $66 billion over five years, and Medicaid, down approximately $11 billion."

But a report from the Heritage Foundation explained how most of these "cuts" are merely slowdowns in the growth rate: "The President's budget calls for savings of $76 billion over the next five years through a combination of administrative and legislative proposals, which, if implemented, would reduce the Medicare program's total rate of growth from a projected 6.5 percent to 5.6 percent."