Any doubts about President Bush’s priorities were erased when he submitted his Fiscal Year 2003 budget to Congress Feb. 4. Dubbed a budget “that leaves no military contractor behind,” the $2.13 trillion spending and tax package was met with critical reviews from the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association (NEA) and organizations concerned with the budget’s impact on workers and poor people.

Administration officials claim that discretionary spending – all government spending except for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the national debt – is expected to grow by 9 percent next year. But when increases in military spending ($48 billion) and “homeland security” (nearly $38 billion) are set aside, the growth in spending falls to 2 percent.

The budget is engulfed by the war on terrorism. “If there was any proposal linked to defeating terrorism that made even a reasonable case, we rolled it into the budget,” budget director Mitch Daniels told reporters.

Bush’s generosity to the military-industrial complex is not a one-shot event. The 2003 budget calls for a sustained five-year increase that would see military spending increase from $331 billion this year to $451 billion in 2007, almost all of it benefiting outfits like Boeing and Raytheon.

In all, Bush wants $68.7 billion to pay for weapons and other equipment in 2003, with nearly $8 billion earmarked for research and testing of his national missile defense. It would be the largest military buildup since President Ronald Reagan’s 20 years ago.

Bush’s proposal for a $2,500 yearly tax credit for private school tuition drew a testy response from Rebbeca Fleuschauer, a spokesperson for the 2.6-million-member NEA. “Just a few weeks ago Bush pointed proudly to the education bill Congress passed last year. But his 2003 budget undermines and rolls back much of that legislation,” she told the World in a telephone interview.

Fleuschauer repeated the NEA’s opposition to any form of vouchers. “His proposal to shift $3.7 billion from public education will make things even more difficult for states that face a financial crisis because of the recession.”

That $3.7 billion would pay for 20,000 teachers, making smaller class sizes possible and providing additional help in reading and math to 3.7 million low-income children. The education tax credit is part of $591 billion in tax cuts Bush wants over the next decade.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, said the nation’s 12 million poor children are among the many that President Bush left behind in his 2003 budget. In the midst of spending increases for defense and homeland security, “the president continues an economic agenda that favors the wealthiest with massive tax cuts, while neglecting the needs and aspirations of millions of low-income children whose parents struggle to find and keep jobs to support and care for them.”

Martha A. McSteen, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, added her voice to the chorus of those demanding that Congress reshape the budget so it “truly meets the growing needs of their constituents.”

McSteen said the administration’s request for $190 billion for Medicare reform is inadequate. “At least $450 billion is needed over the next 10 years to provide a comprehensive and affordable prescription drug benefit as part of the Medicare program.”

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, told the World, “The president’s budget proposals [on health care] do little to comfort the American people. Low-income workers across America will either find health premiums unaffordable or will only be able to buy Swiss cheese-type policies with more holes than cheese.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is protesting a proposal to eviscerate spending for a youth job training program, from $225 million this year to $45 million next year.

Gregg Irish, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, said half of the District’s five-year, $32 million program could be cut, even though teen unemployment in 2000 was 33.1 percent.

In a statement, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the budget was “a major disappointment” and called on Bush “to craft a budget that reflects an understanding that the nation’s security and the economic security of its citizens go hand in hand.”

The AFL-CIO charges that key worker protection programs such as workplace safety, health standards and enforcement, and federal contract compliance takes a 7 percent hit. In criticizing Bush’s “misguided” tax program, the statement said it “primarily benefits the very wealthiest taxpayers, and has already contributed significantly to a $4 trillion decline in the long-range budget surplus.”


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries