Republicans running for U.S. Senate took issue Wednesday with President Bush's growing federal budget deficits during the taping of the only statewide candidate forum to be televised before Tuesday's primary.
The campaign comments on PBS' "California Connected" show came even as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan appeared before the House Budget Committee in Washington and urged Congress to consider cutting Social Security benefits for future retirees to reduce government expenses.
This year's budget deficit is projected to reach more than $520 billion.
Until now, the four major GOP Senate candidates have largely praised Bush's tax cuts, which they support being made permanent.
But all four candidates Wednesday broke to some degree with Bush's economic policies, criticizing skyrocketing federal deficits and what they said was the administration's failure in recent years to trim nonmilitary discretionary spending, particularly in light of the tax cuts.
"California has proven that you can't spend your way out of a deficit," said former Secretary of State Bill Jones, considered the front-runner in the race to take on Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer this fall. He said Congress should pass a budget that allows an increase of just 1% or 2% in discretionary spending over the previous year. Bush's budget proposes a 3.5% spending increase.
Challenger Howard Kaloogian, a former San Marcos assemblyman, said he would propose a spending limit similar to one passed by California voters that was invalidated by a court in 1990. A similar federal proposal passed the Senate in 1982 but was defeated in the House and has never been reintroduced, he said.
Congress should freeze spending in light of the current budget crisis, said former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, while exempting funding for national security needs. Former Los Altos Hills Mayor Toni Casey, a former executive with the Small Business Administration, called for cutting spending on perks that aren't essential for health or safety.
Widespread -- and bipartisan -- worries about the economy have helped pull Bush's popularity among California voters to its lowest level, according to the statewide Field Poll released Wednesday.
The Los Angeles Times Poll released Tuesday found that the state's registered voters would choose either of two Democratic senators -- John Kerry of Massachusetts or John Edwards of North Carolina -- over Bush in the Nov. 2 election.
As a result, all of the major Republican Senate candidates have found themselves treading a fine line -- criticizing some of Bush's policies, including his plan to grant guest-worker status to illegal immigrants and foreign workers, while praising other policies, such as the tax cuts.
There have been only scattered public appearances since January in a campaign that so far has drawn little mainstream television or radio interest. Marin began airing radio ads two weeks ago, joined just this week by Kaloogian.
The Jones campaign, which previously said it had no plans to air radio or television ads, said Wednesday that it will air network television, cable and radio ads today through Monday. Campaign advisor Ed Rollins said the ads, featuring Jones' accomplishments and his endorsement by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, were delayed because the campaign wasn't sure how much time would be available heading into Tuesday's primary election.
The PBS candidate forum taped Wednesday, meanwhile, airs today at 10 p.m. on 10 of the state's 13 PBS stations.
Discussion of immigration and the environment consumed the remainder of that forum. On immigration, the candidates plowed no new ground, repeating their opposition to Bush's guest-worker plan, which Marin said ignores the root cause of illegal immigration: Mexico's dismal economy and lack of jobs.
Casey outlined her alternative for a temporary guest-worker program that forbids workers to bring their families or to obtain driver's licenses while here.
The country should not create more incentives in an immigration system that already attracts more people to the U.S. illegally than through legal immigration, Jones said. Kaloogian proposed streamlining legal immigration procedures to lessen the time it takes to obtain legal status.