News Analysis

George W. Bush’s proposed 2006 budget is actually the strategic plan for his second term. Read carefully, the budget reveals the real agenda of this administration, and helps clear away the usual rhetoric designed to conceal and confuse.

The stakes are high. Once put into place, the overall structure of federal spending — and thus the substance of government programs — will be fixed until 2010.

Bush’s proposed program has three pillars that reinforce each other.

1. Feed the rich. The budget aims to make permanent the 2001 tax cuts and initiate new ones that together will cost $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years. The greater part of this will go directly into the pockets of those making $100,000 or more. If made permanent, the previous tax cuts alone will add $1.9 trillion over the next 10 years to the pockets of the top 1 percent of taxpayers. These tax cuts are responsible for 48 percent of the current federal deficit. (Military spending is responsible for the bulk of the remainder, 37 percent of the total.)

Aside from pure greed, which shouldn’t be underestimated, the strategic thrust of this proposal is to consolidate the wealthy behind Bush’s reactionary social agenda. Unless these tax giveaways are blocked, there will be no possibility of sustaining current levels of funding for basic social programs, as inadequately funded as these are.

2. Starve the poor. The budget is not aimed at decreasing government spending. This budget will actually increase government spending over the next period. Its aim is to decrease spending on social welfare. According to estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the budget will necessitate cuts averaging 16 percent over the next five years in already underfunded domestic discretionary programs. These include education, low-income assistance, HIV/AIDS treatment, housing, veterans’ benefits and environmental protection. On top of this, the budget requires a $45 billion cut in Medicaid funding. Coupled with the attack on Social Security, this plan amounts to nothing less then an attempt to destroy the foundations of the Welfare State built up over the past 70 years.

3. Grow the military. The Bush administration has initiated a policy of naked military domination and armed conquest as the foundation of U.S. international hegemony. The buildup of military might required for this is a driving force for this budget. The Pentagon’s budget already amounts to over half the world’s military expenditures and is going up dramatically. Military spending has increased by 40 percent over the last four years, and will increase 5 percent per year under the Bush spending plan.

Note, too, that the official Pentagon budget is only the tip of the iceberg, since “emergency” supplemental appropriations, like this year’s $89 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, are quite predictable.

Although empire-building is the driving force behind this surge in military spending, another factor is the administration’s quest for an economic stimulus. The Bush economic planners, like those of Reagan, are military Keynesians, despite their free-market rhetoric. They understand that, without massive government spending, the U.S. economy is unsustainable. Hence their push for military spending, even though studies have shown that, dollar for dollar, spending on civilian projects would create many more jobs.

Any meaningful opposition to the Bush agenda must confront these three pillars. Democratic Party centrists, who dominate the congressional leadership, have a woeful record in this regard. While verbally disapproving of Bush’s tax philosophy and contempt for social programs, they have so far refused to directly challenge the drive to dismantle the New Deal. They have responded with compromise and retreat, acting as if they have no fundamental differences in principle, only in details and timing.

On military expansion they are worse then useless. For example, Rep. Rahm Emanuel from Chicago, a centrist Democrat representing a progressive urban district, has supported every bill to expand military spending that has been put before Congress during his term.

With such leaders at its core, the Democratic Party cannot mount effective opposition to the Bush agenda. Such an opposition must organized by progressive leaders of mass organizations who understand what’s at stake.

Mel Rothenberg is professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Chicago and an active member of the Committee for New Priorities of Chicago Jobs With Justice.