what a sham, what a rotten, phony, fake document this 2006 budget is.
AUSTIN, Texas -- I feel snakebit about praising any proposal by George W. Bush. Every time I write a column saying, "Look, he's done something good!" he does something else that makes it either not so good or just plain bad. He welched on his deal with Ted Kennedy in the Lots of Children Left Behind Act, now underfunded by $12 billion. And nobody has ever seen that $15 billion he promised to fight AIDS in Africa.
The hideous Medicare prescription drug benefit, perhaps the most obscenely deformed legislation I've ever seen written, in addition to being a mother lode for the drug companies now turns out not to cost the promised $400 billion over 10 years but a whopping $1.2 trillion. (For those of you who are fans of the Department of Great Big Numbers, the administration is now estimating there will be "offsets" to the prescription drug fiasco that will reduce the $1.2 trillion to a mere $720 billion. Remember when they tried to fire that whistleblower who said it would cost at least $530 billion? And don't count on those offsets. These folks have remarkable imaginations -- they're counting as certain revenue $1 billion from oil drilling in ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), something Congress has rejected for the last four years.)
All that said, I did find a good idea in Bush's budget -- putting a lower cap on farm subsidies. Three-fourths of federal crop subsidies go to the wealthiest 10 percent of agriculture businesses. This is not a red state-blue state issue. Two-thirds of American farms -- those run by families and small operators -- do not qualify for subsidies at all. For years, agribusiness has successfully hidden behind the sacred shield of "the family farmer," who is still getting screwed. It's a monumental rip-off, made worse by a loophole that has allowed some huge agribusiness firms to collect millions of dollars a year by disguising themselves as several corporations. Farm conservation programs make much more sense and do benefit family farmers.
And that said, what a sham, what a rotten, phony, fake document this 2006 budget is.
In the first place, they're trying to fool you into thinking the deficit is less than it is by using a fake number from the previous year -- an early deficit estimate set way high so they could claim the deficit had been "dramatically reduced." Last year's actual deficit was $412 billion, the largest ever, and under Bush's budget this year, it will be $427 billion. The actual deficit, with war spending included, would balloon to $1.4 trillion by 2010 under this plan.
In the second place, the budget contains none of the expenses for the war in Iraq or Bush's plan for Social Security, presumably in place by then.
Third, the values reflected in this budget are deformed.
The cuts take away from schools in need, child-care assistance, environmental programs (a whopping 10.4 percent cut there), students (he lied about Pell Grants), veterans, Medicaid, food stamps -- basically the weakest and the poorest Americans. The money goes overwhelmingly to the richest Americans, who would get the permanent tax cuts, and to the Department of Defense, the monster.
According to this budget, Defense gets a 4.8 percent increase, bad enough (again, this is without counting Iraq). But as William Saleton explains in an article on Slate.com, what Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has done is to hide at least $40 billion in normal defense expenditures in the supplementary appropriation that will have to be passed for the war in Iraq.
When if he asked if he was hiding regular spending in the emergency wartime bill, Rumsfeld said: "That would be wrong, and we wouldn't do that. It's all right out in the open." Whereupon the press laughed merrily. Saleton estimates it's a 10 percent increase, without Iraq. Others put it even higher. Ha, ha, ha.
Hubert Humphrey said, "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life -- the sick, the needy, the handicapped." Bush seems to think they're all targets.
I'm a great believer in put up or shut up, so here's where I'd get the money to pay for those programs. Don't make the tax cuts permanent -- they do go disproportionately to the very richest people in this country, it's gross. And stop the two new tax cuts that go only to the very, very rich. Don't put another nickel, not to mention another $9.7 billion, into that ridiculous boondoggle, Star Wars. Track down the $8.8 billion the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction now says is effectively unaccounted for because of "severe inefficiencies and poor management." The scathing report also says lack of oversight opened the funds to corruption.
Oh, and if Congress would like to retain the power of the purse, I suggest it look very closely at the fine print in this doozy. It proposes biennial budgeting and appropriations (of course, not in election years), automatic appropriations, a presidential veto on the joint budget resolution (Congress' planning document for appropriations) and much, much more.
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