Officials: Bush Space Plan Not Too Costly

Space-exploration proposals that President Bush is preparing to put into his next budget will not undermine his administration's goal of cutting the federal deficit in half within five years, Treasury Secretary John Snow said Sunday.

Snow said the new space proposals, which include a permanent settlement on the moon and setting a goal of sending Americans to Mars, will be undertaken "within a framework of fiscal responsibility."

Snow said the administration's budget, which will be sent to Congress on Feb. 2, will outline the new space proposals plus a plan that will accomplish the goal of cutting record budget deficits in half through a combination of stronger economic growth and spending restraint.

"We can do both. We really can," Snow said in an interview on ABC's "This Week." "This is a country of enormous resources, and we have the capacity to pursue a number of priorities at one time, but we have to do so within the framework of fiscal responsibility. I think you'll see that reflected in the budget."

Snow said that Bush was "not one to shy away from bold visions."

Snow's Cabinet colleague, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, agreed that Bush's space ideas are audacious. But he rejected the suggestion that Americans might consider the plans' probable huge cost wasteful at a time with millions of people unemployed and the country facing other expensive needs on Earth.

"America has always needed a challenge of a big and bold idea," Evans said on CNN's "Late Edition."

"I can also tell you that this program will be within a responsible fiscal budget because the president knows, once again, the basic ingredients to growing an economy and creating more jobs are cutting taxes and controlling spending."

"Whatever the program is, however big it is," Evans said, "it will be within a responsible fiscal budget."

In previewing Bush's official announcement, coming this week, White House aides did not discuss costs of the project. Bush's father proposed during his presidency a more muted project, which would have aimed at putting Americans on Mars without mention of a moon base. The cost of that enterprise was projected at $400 billion to $500 billion in 1989 dollars, far too rich for Congress to consider.

Two members of the current Congress, both Democratic contenders to take Bush's job, said Sunday that the president's moon-Mars ideas appeared to be misplaced priorities.

"I haven't looked at the numbers lately, but I don't know that we can go off on a new moon mission or Mars mission, if that's the suggestion, and just have the money to do something in addition to completing the space station," said Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., interviewed on CBS' "Face the Nation" from Des Moines, Iowa. "We're pretty far down the road on the space station, and we need to complete it and have the success from it that we need."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said as much as he admires the space program - President Kennedy's moon-shot program was an early attraction to politics - he would prefer to spend the money on an "American Center for Cures" to find cures for chronic diseases still bedeviling the world. "If we had that kind of money, ... frankly I think that's more important to the American people than that kind of space voyage at this point in our history," said Lieberman, speaking on "Late Edition from his campaign in New Hampshire.

On ABC, Snow said the administration remains confident that the economy is beginning to rebound at a strong enough rate to make a significant dent in the unemployment rate. Both Snow and Evans shrugged off a disappointing report Friday that showed only 1,000 jobs were created in December as the jobless rate dropped to 5.7 percent not from new hiring but from the decisions by hundreds of thousands of discouraged workers to leave the labor market.

Snow said while the administration was not satisfied with current job creation at present, it remained convinced that job growth would strengthen in coming months, reflecting the rebound in economic growth that started last summer.

"Everything we know about economics indicates that, as you get an economy into high gear, as you get a strong recovery under way, it does translate into jobs," Snow said. "I am very confident this recovery will translate into job creation."

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.