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CONCORD, N.H. -- On the eve of President Bush's visit to New Hampshire, the state's two Republican congressmen took a wait-and-see attitude toward Bush's proposed $2.77 trillion budget.
Rep. Charles Bass said only that Bush's proposals "provide us with a starting point for important congressional consideration and debate."
Congress, he said, "needs to craft a budget that reflects our continuing national priorities of securing our homeland, developing our economy and reducing the growth of mandatory government spending."
Rep. Jeb Bradley was similarly noncommittal.
"As a member of the House Budget Committee, I look forward to reviewing his proposals in more detail," Bradley said. "My priorities will be to pass a budget that decreases our nation's deficit, keeps the economy strong and ensures that we have enough resources and funding to fight the war on terror and provide for our nation's veterans."
Both of the state's senators, also Republicans, were more forthcoming in response to a short list of questions posed by The Associated Press.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg said he believes spending $36 billion less on Medicare in the next five years, as Bush proposes, is achievable. He also said he supports making permanent previous cuts in taxes on capital gains and dividends and believes the federal budget deficit can be cut in half.
Sen. John Sununu also said he backs the dividends and capital gains proposals. He said he would review the details of Bush's Medicare proposals, but warned that if entitlement programs such as Medicare "are allowed to grow ... we will bankrupt future generations."
Sununu said the administration's deficit-reduction target is "only a ballpark figure," but one that "should make every member of Congress take pause before supporting higher spending levels."
Prominent Democrats challenged Bass and Bradley to join moderate Republicans such as Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine in opposing Bush's Medicare proposals. They two "need to decide whether they stand with New Hampshire or with President Bush and his deep Medicare cuts," state Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen said. "If our congressmen have a backbone between them, they will stand up for our state before the president's visit tomorrow."
Larsen said 179,564 people in the state rely on Medicare.
Bush was to speak Wednesday in Manchester at an invitation-only luncheon sponsored by the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association. He has been traveling around the country elaborating on themes of his State of the Union speech.
Critics say Bush's budget seriously understates the cost of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Gregg said spending on the wars and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina "essentially are one-time costs."
"I anticipate a drawdown of troops and in two or three years we won't be running those expenses," he said.