WASHINGTON — Millions of children, senior citizens, sick and disabled people will suffer because President Bush and his Republican allies in Congress blocked increased funding for low-income programs contained in a domestic spending bill approved this week.
“Those in Congress who stand pat with the president’s cuts are voting to inflict more harm on millions and to reject investments in our future,” the Coalition on Human Needs charged in a statement.
The coalition made that charge as the House voted 253-154 to approve $516 billion in domestic spending for 14 non-military Cabinet agencies. The Senate followed suit Dec. 18, approving the domestic spending package. They voted 70-25 to add $70 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars without language requiring troop withdrawal. Democratic lawmakers, unable to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override Bush’s repeated vetoes, were forced to accept his $933 billion ceiling on all domestic spending to avoid being blamed for shutting down the government.
The Democrats had attempted to increase funding for human needs programs by $27 billion, or about 7 percent. Bush claimed those increases were “wasteful” and insisted on less than 1 percent increases, far below the inflation rate.
But Bush ramrodded his $459.3 billion 2008 Pentagon budget through and signed it into law last Nov. 13. It was $42 billion, or 9.7 percent, higher than the current Department of Defense budget. It did not include $194 billion Bush has requested for the Iraq-Afghanistan wars.
Adam Hughes, an analyst for OMB Watch, a group that tracks the federal budget, told the World that Bush’s $933 billion ceiling is “disingenuous, to put it mildly. Actually he is flat out lying.” Add $516 billion in domestic spending and $459 billion in the DoD budget. It comes to $975 billion, $42 billion higher than his ceiling. The $42 billion is “emergency supplemental war spending.”
“Bush does not count that against his ceiling,” Hughes said.
Coalition on Human Needs Executive Director Deborah Weinstein rejected attempts to pillory the Democratic leadership for bowing to Bush intransigence. Bush’s vetoes, and votes by a majority of Republicans to sustain those vetoes, have been the GOP’s election-year strategy from the beginning, political observers have noted. They calculate that their obstructionism will sow anger and frustration against the Democrats.
“We place the blame squarely on the president and his followers for the downward adjustments in these vital programs,” Weinstein told the World. She praised the House and Senate leadership for adding emergency funds for several urgently needed benefit programs. The Democratic leaders saved the Commodity Supplemental Food Program’s “Meals on Wheels” that delivers box meals to half a million low-income elderly each day. Bush attempted to terminate the program. They provided $654 million for the Community Action Program that helps the poor, which Bush also wanted to terminate. Congress also added $2 billion more in federal funding for education programs and increased funding to benefit veterans by $3.7 billion.
“In many instances, the House leaders have tried to protect human needs programs,” Weinstein added. “They actually increased funding for the WIC nutrition program and LIHEAP home heating above what they had earlier approved because of increased need.”
She blasted Bush’s cuts as “shameful” and praised the broad coalition of unions, low-income groups and faith organizations for struggling over many months to expand these vital programs, including the SCHIP children’s health program. “We will come back next year and work for the improvement that children and the elderly and working families need,” she said.
The “guns vs. butter” federal budget battle now looms over the 2008 presidential and congressional elections, Weinstein said. “We have read the polls and they show that the people are worried about the economy, the uncertainty over affordable housing, and health care. They want leaders who will allow our nation to move forward on these issues and not backward. We need more secure housing and health care, and not do what the administration has done which is to make the people less secure.”