Originally created 02/03/03

Bush leads nation in mourning



WASHINGTON -- President Bush enters one of the most difficult weeks of his presidency, leading the mourning over the space shuttle Columbia while bracing Americans for war and defending a budget proposal that promises record deficits.

Bush tentatively planned to fly to Johnson Space Center on Tuesday for a NASA memorial service for the seven astronauts killed Saturday. That could change if the space agency moves the memorial date.

The president on Monday morning was releasing a spending plan for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 that offers a string of deficits for five years, with cuts in some popular programs and growth in others.

Bush was focusing Monday afternoon on his request for $6 billion over a decade to quickly make available vaccines and treatments against bioweapons such as anthrax and plague.

Administration and congressional sources said Bush's plan envisions record deficits of $307 billion this year and $304 billion in 2004. The $2.23 budget proposal does not take into account the tens of billions of dollars it would cost to invade Iraq.

The situation in Iraq also takes center stage this week.

Bush is to meet with the leaders of Bahrain and Poland, though the session with the king of Bahrain could be postponed by Bush's trip to Houston.

Secretary of State Colin Powell goes before the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to present purported evidence of prohibited Iraqi weapons programs.

Bush listened intently in church Sunday as a minister said he had heard others say the shuttle's breakup was "God's way of getting back at us" for Bush's Iraq policies.

"That's hokum. That's just garbage," said the Rev. Luis Leon, rector of St. John's Church across Lafayette Square from the White House.

"What happened yesterday I think is the price that we pay for exploration, it's the price that we pay for the freedom that God has granted all of us," Leon said.

Bush bowed his head as a congregation member, Doug Volgenau, read aloud the names of the seven lost astronauts.

Volgenau prayed that "they may have a place in Your eternal kingdom."

"God's heart is more heartbroken than our own, and I believe they're already resting," Leon said.

After delivering an emotional televised statement Saturday on the Columbia, Bush kept a public silent Sunday.

Officials gathered Sunday in the White House Situation Room to monitor the investigations. Bush was being briefed by aides.

"People are busy keeping track of things, meeting, discussing, doing what they need to do to keep on top of that," John Marburger, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a telephone interview.

Marburger would not say whether a separate White House investigation was under consideration.

"We're going to have to get the forensic evidence, the debris and get the experts working on it, and begin to form these theories," he said. "It's too easy to have theories based on this limited information. ... This is a problem with a lot of variables."