WASHINGTON — Outraged protests greeted President George W. Bush’s $2.57 trillion budget proposal, with many calling it a fraudulent, radical plan to starve spending on human needs while lavishing billions on the “greedy.”
The 2006 budget Bush sent to Capitol Hill Feb. 7 ratchets up military spending 5 percent, to $419 billion from $400 billion in the current budget. The new figure does not include funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush is requesting an off-budget $81 billion supplement to pay for those adventures, which have already cost $151 billion. Also not included is the cost of Bush’s Social Security privatization plan, estimated to add $2 trillion to the budget deficit over the next 10 years and $6 trillion over the next 20 years if it passes.
On the other hand, spending for health, schools, food stamps, veterans and a sweeping range of other domestic programs, now at $392 billion, would be slashed $3 billion and frozen for four years.
Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, accused Bush of a long-term agenda aimed at terminating domestic programs under the ultra-right slogan “starve the beast,” even as the number of poor and unemployed people dependent on programs like food stamps and Medicaid soars above 50 million.
“Total it all together and it leads over time to a radical shrinkage of the domestic side of the budget,” Greenstein told a Feb. 8 telephone news conference. In the weeks before this budget was unveiled, “we heard more expressions of concern about these cutbacks than we have heard in a couple of decades,” he said. “People were anticipating the cuts.”
Thomas H. Corey, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, accused Bush of waging “a budget war on America’s veterans.”
“With American soldiers deployed across the globe, the administration has uttered platitudes about our brave young men and women on the front lines of freedom,” the veterans leader said. “However, this grossly inadequate budget shows that [administration officials] do not understand our nation’s obligation to care for veterans.”
He was referring to a new $250 enrollment fee that 1 million veterans will be forced to pay to obtain health care from the Veterans Administration (VA). Also, co-pays levied on veterans have been doubled. “The increases in co-payments and the user fee are designed to drive veterans away from the VA,” Corey said. “We believe this budget will constrict veterans benefits. … The president is mistaken if he believes 58 percent of veterans voted for the Bush-Cheney ticket last year to give his administration a mandate to cut funds for veterans.”
Medicaid is another federal health program viciously slashed by $45 billion over the coming decade even as the ranks of the medically uninsured soar toward 50 million. Children would be among the hardest hit. “The food stamp cut would terminate food stamp aid for 200,000 to 300,000 low-income people, most of whom are members of low-income working families with children,” Greenstein charged. “The budget proposes new tax cuts … that will reduce revenues by almost $130 billion over five years and $1.4 trillion over 10 years.” These tax giveaways benefit only the top one percent of taxpayers.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said Bush is seeking to perpetuate “a hoax, pulling a bait and switch. … It’s a budget that rewards the greedy and cuts the needy. It is geared toward making the original tax cuts for the rich permanent and increasing military spending while cutting health programs for poor people and veterans and trimming spending on the environment and education.”
Danielle Ewen, senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, charged that cuts in federal child assistance would mean 300,000 fewer children served over the next five years. “Hundreds of thousands of parents across the United States are working hard but not making enough to fully pay for the child care they need to keep their jobs,” she said. “These working parents should be supported, not penalized.”
Ewen told the World, “It’s pretty clear that the Bush administration’s budget priorities are to protect the tax cuts that benefit a very small number of people, not the programs that benefit everyone and strengthen our country such as child care, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, education, housing and the environment. Virtually everyone in our country is being touched by these budget cuts. They are trying to balance the budget on the backs of everyone who will be hurt be these cuts.”
She urged unity to fight the cutbacks, warning, “One of their strategies will be to pit the advocates for low-income people against each other” with the line, “cut their benefits, not ours.”
Peace Action and United For Peace and Justice organized a “call-in” to Congress Feb. 9 urging lawmakers to reject Bush’s $81 billion supplemental war funding request, with the message, “Not one more dime should go to the war in Iraq.” Scott Lynch, Peace Action communications director, said, “The Bush defense budget is heading toward $500 billion. It is a sham in that it contains no money for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. What they are doing is hiding the cost of these wars from the American people. It is more dishonesty from this administration. Every dollar spent over there is as dollar taken away from our domestic needs.”
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