President Bush’s $2.23 trillion budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 is loaded with more than a trillion dollars in tax breaks for the rich, increased spending for the military-industrial complex and cuts in funding for many social programs. It drew an angry response from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
“The administration’s dependence on privatization and top-heavy tax cuts will force the nation’s seniors, children and workers onto a starvation diet while flooding the bank accounts of the richest Americans with billions in tax cuts,” Sweeney said. The 2004 budget, he added, “hollows out the most trusted services to pay for tax cuts” that will make it possible for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to get back more in taxes than the average worker earns in a year.
Sweeney said the budget “skimps” on the states, education, jobs and the economy while failing to offer an aggressive plan to create jobs by investing in public programs such as building roads, schools and hospitals.”
The Bush budget for 2004 limits total “discretionary spending” – money the president and Congress must decide to spend each year – to $782 billion. Of that total, $399.1 billion – 51 percent – goes to the military.
The New York Times said the military budget – up $16.9 billion over 2003 – “is bloated with money for old-style weaponry needed only by defense contractors and military empire builders.”
The Times editorial said the deficit, that shifts taxes from today’s citizens to those of the future, is typical of the administration’s “party-now-pay-later” attitude toward government finances.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, was equally outraged. “The Bush administration is waging a budget war against the poor,” she said, charging that Bush “chooses to give an average of $89,000 in tax cuts to each millionaire this year while dismantling Head Start and Medicaid.”
Barbara B. Kennelly, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, was sharply critical of the sleight of hand Bush used in dealing with a prescription drugs program for seniors under which they would have to withdraw from Medicare and enroll in an HMO to be eligible for drugs.
“Choice is not worth much if none of the options are good,” she said, expressing concern that traditional fee-for-service Medicare could be phased out and future beneficiaries required to choose among private plans only. “The president wants it all – the tax plan, the war and the privatization of Medicare. Seniors just want to see progress on a prescription drug plan.”
Congressional criticism came from both sides of the aisle. Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, called the budget “pure P.R. with color pictures of little children and brave soldiers designed to distract the American public from the truth.”
Among the most closely watched members of Congress on budgetary issues are a group of moderate Senate Republicans who may determine the future of the tax proposals, and one of them – Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine – made it clear that she was uncomfortable by the large number of minuses in the budget books. Other moderate Senate Republicans include Susan Collins of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and John Chaffee of Rhode Island. They, together with 49 Democrats, may be able to create a firewall against the worst features of the budget.
Stephanie Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Center for Community Change, said, “Bush’s plans for economic growth provide no relief for working families, hurt the states already facing serious budget crises, and put vulnerable children and families at greater risk. Not only does the president’s proposed tax cut ignore an entire segment of the population, it starves much needed social programs.”
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said the budget “falls far short of the commitment needed to fulfill his promise of ‘quality, affordable health care for all.’ Its proposals will force seniors to lose their doctors and cause many of the most vulnerable people to join the ranks of the uninsured.”
The Bush budget is filled with “now you see it, now you don’t” accounting practices where increase in one program are offset by cuts elsewhere: A $200 million increase to boost low-income home ownership is paid for by eliminating $574 million program to refurbish aging public-housing units. The cost of the much-ballyhooed program for helping deal with the African AIDS pandemic will be offset by cutting funds for development aid for poor countries.
The budget takes a shot at poor and low-income families with new eligibility requirements that make it more difficult to obtain a range of government benefits from programs ranging from tax credits to school lunches. It also slashes several programs aimed at easing health-care shortages in under-served communities. One, costing $300 million annually to fund training and scholarships for would-be doctors, takes an $81 million hit while a program that helps some hospitals pay for large, one-time, purchases will be eliminated.
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