By Jill Jusko President Bush's $2.4 trillion budget for fiscal 2005 proposes just $39 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a public-private partnership that primarily serves small manufacturers. That funding level is equivalent to the funding this program received in 2004, but is far less than supporters of the program had hoped for. In fiscal 2003, Congress funded the MEP at $106.6 million. Submitted to Congress on Feb. 2, Bush's fiscal 2005 budget proposal faces many months of Congressional wrangling. Reaction to the MEP funding level was swift. "The administration can't continue to serve America's small manufacturers by cutting $67 million out of a $106 million program," says Mike Wojcicki, president of the Modernization Forum, the trade association for the MEP centers. "With our manufacturers continuing to face stiff international competition and manufacturing jobs fleeing our shores, cutting an effective program like MEP sends the wrong message to our nation's small business owners and stands in stark contrast to the administration's promise in its recent manufacturing report to support MEP." The Modernization Forum had led the fight to restore funding to the MEP in fiscal 2004, mounting a letter-writing campaign that targeted Congressional leaders. While conceding that the effort was unlikely to impact the 2004 budget, Wojcicki said he'd hoped the outcry would help boost funding for fiscal 2005, which begins Oct. 1. Budget documents for fiscal 2005 say of the MEP: "The administration proposes to coordinate MEP fully with other Commerce Department programs that are helping manufacturers to be more competitive and expand markets."