Wednesday, February 12, 2003 at 1:00am

It is no inconsequential matter that President Bush submitted a budget to Congress proposing a $307 billion deficit for 2004. For much of the past 10 years there has been bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill that the federal government balance its books.

Yet hardly anyone would dispute that these are unique times in which President Bush is asked to decide the nation's fiscal priorities. America is still recovering from the worst terror attack in its history; it is girding for a possible war with Iraq; and the nation's economy remains mired, stubbornly so, in the sluggish state in which Bush found it when he moved into the White House.

As Bush said, his 2004 budget "meets the challenges posed by three national priorities

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