Bush's Last Budget May Be the Next Administration's Agenda
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Tossed out between the Superbowl and Super Tuesday, dead on arrival in a Democratic Congress, President Bush's last budget will sink without a ripple. But since John McCain and his rivals for the Republican nomination all pledge allegiance to Bush's policies, it is worth taking a short look at the implications.
A budget, after all, is a statement of values. Where your purse is so there is your heart, we are taught. The budget provides a snapshot of what the president considers to be national priorities. In his $3.1 trillion annual budget for FY 2009, with a deficit of $400 billion borrowed from the future, Bush tells us what is important.
This nation now spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. It is, the president tells us, not enough. This budget expands the Pentagon's budget to levels, in inflation adjusted dollars, not seen since World War II. And that's not counting the cost -- now nearing a trillion and counting -- of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This nation now suffers Gilded Age inequality. It is, the president tells us, not unequal enough. His budget would make his tax cuts permanent -- at the cost of $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years, with millionaires pocketing tax breaks of about $150,000 a year. As the Center for Policy and Budget Priorities reports, the combined annual total of the tax cuts enjoyed by this top 0.3 percent of American households (three-one thousandths) would exceed the entire amount the federal government invests in elementary and secondary education. And by eliminating any tax on the estates they leave to their heirs, the president would entrench the extremes of wealth in the next generation as well.
This nation's education system suffers a savage inequality. For much of America, we're failing to provide even the basics of a world-class education -- preschool, modern school facilities, small classes in early grades, afterschool programs, affordable college. This inequality, the president tells us, is not savage enough, so this budget cuts spending on education, removes 200,000 low income children from child care support, and does nothing to bring college within reach of working families.
This nation's health care system is broken. But it is, the president tells us, not broken enough. This budget would cut Medicaid, at the very time states are facing stark cutbacks to balance their budgets in a recession. It would reduce the number of children covered under the Children's Health program. It would freeze payments to doctors and hospitals under Medicare, and stunningly, cut support for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, even as a global economy puts us at greater risk of importing global pandemics.
This nation's basic infrastructure -- from bridges in Minneapolis to levees in New Orleans, from sewage and clean water treatments, to mass transit and fast broadband -- is decrepit and collapsing. But not, the president tells us, fast enough. This budget continues to cut domestic investment across the board, even reducing federal support for "first responders" -- police, fire and public health officials by 45 percent percent.
With the housing bust, over a million families are slated to lose their homes this year. Not, the president tells us, enough, so his budget slashes housing vouchers, eliminating rental support for an estimated 100,000 low income families.
Families across America are struggling with the soaring cost of gas and home heating. Not, the president tells us, enough, so his budget, in an act of seeming perverse cruelty, calls for cutting home heating support for low-income families by 22 percent, even without adjusting to the increase in gas prices.
At the same time these cuts are being made, the president projects deficits of over $400 billion a year for two years. But the problem isn't what he borrowed but what he spent it on. He will rack up some $4 trillion in debt by the time he leaves office, squandering it largely on tax cuts for the wealthy, and a disastrous war of choice in Iraq. He mortgaged the house, and wasted the dough on misbegotten adventure and conspicuous consumption.
None of this would matter, except that those vying to succeed him promise more of the same, only worse. Like Mr. Bush, John "I'm the Sherriff" McCain pledges to sustain the war, spend more on the military and make the tax cuts permanent. But he also vows to cut domestic spending more deeply to bring the budget into balance. That won't happen: it would require eliminating virtually everything the government does at home other than entitlements like Social Security and Medicare to cover the true level of Mr. Bush's annual deficits.
But his pledge shows where his heart is. He'll continue to police the world and pamper the privileged while starving investments vital to our future. McCain and Romney and Huckabee provide the rhetoric. Mr. Bush's budget provides the numbers. Ever wonder how great powers decline, how empires collapse, how advanced countries fall behind? Read the numbers and weep.
Robert Borosage is co-director of the Campaign For America's Future, and he has written on political, economic, and national security issues for publications including The New York Times and The Nation.