President Bush submitted a $2.57 trillion budget to Congress that eliminates or drastically cuts 150 governmental programs. The budget is an attempt to meet his goal of slashing the deficit in half by 2009, without giving up tax cuts for the wealthy that were implemented during his first term. When asked about the cuts, Bush said, “Spending discipline requires difficult choices.” But much in Bush’s budget runs contrary to his administration’s rhetoric.
Although Bush has now called for fiscal discipline, during his first term the nation’s deficit rose to record levels. And his administration is currently spending an estimated $5 billion per month on the war in Iraq. And although the president acknowledged that difficult choices are needed to reduce the deficit, his budget includes no funds for military action in Iraq in 2006. The administration said they could not predict how much money would be needed, so rather than approximating the cost in the budget, they will ask Congress for additional funding next year. However, Bush will ask Congress for an additional $81 billion later this month for Iraq. Since the administration believes this amount is needed for 2005, shouldn’t “spending discipline” require it to estimate next year’s military costs for Iraq in the budget?
During his re-election campaign, Bush made a concerted effort to gain the support of veterans. The Bush campaign told veterans that they shared their values and were dedicated to supporting the military’s needs. And veterans supported Bush by voting for him by a 16 percent margin. Yet the new budget significantly reduces veteran’s benefits.
Although the budget contains a 4.8 percent increase in the Pentagon’s funding, half of the increase is being used to purchase seven ships and a nuclear attack submarine. And the budget doubles funding for the U.S. Army division responsible for locating soldiers who have deserted. By contrast, the budget more than doubles the co-payment for a veteran’s monthly supply of prescription drugs. And veterans must now pay an annual enrollment fee of $250 to access health services. Richard B. Fuller with the Paralyzed Veterans of America advised that as a result of the military’s involvement in Iraq these increases come “…at a time when the number of patients is increasing.” Fuller also complained that the new “enrollment fee is designed to discourage people from enrolling.”
He’s right. The Department of Veterans Affairs expects the fee to persuade approximately 213,000 veterans to seek health services elsewhere in 2006. They also seek to reduce the number of patients in V.A. nursing homes by 5,000. Many V.A. hospitals and clinics will have to limit services since the Pentagon’s budget requires reducing health care. However, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson said the new budget shows that President Bush is keeping his “solemn pledge” to care for soldiers.
Throughout his first term, Bush characterized himself as the “education president” and strongly supported the Leave No Child Behind Act. But of the 150 programs in the budget to be eliminated or cut, 48 are in the Department of Education. Funds for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program would be eliminated; $2 billion would be cut from Upward Bound and similar programs that help disadvantaged students prepare for college. A program to decrease alcohol use by high school students would be eliminated. Although the nation has suffered for years from a critical nursing shortage, putting a strain on patient care at many hospitals, funding to train nurses would be reduced by 64 percent. Even Start, a program that helps low-income children with illiterate parents, will be eliminated. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings defended Bush’s efforts to abolish the program, saying “there are better ways to do it,” although she did not offer suggestions as to how.
Bush won re-election partly because he convinced people that he could do a better job of protecting the country from another terrorist attack. Yet the budget reduces funds for the Centers for Disease Control to help state agencies prepare for a biological terrorist attack. The association that represents state public health officials warned that this would “leave the nation vulnerable to public health emergencies,” including a biological attack. Additionally, the $635 million budget to help cities hire and train police officers would be eliminated. These budgetary priorities are clearly contrary to improving the nation’s security.
During the last four years Bush has eagerly promoted his “compassionate conservatism” philosophy. It was the basis of his effort to legitimize organizations that advocate faith-based initiatives, he referenced it in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, and it was a familiar theme in his speeches during the campaign. While it’s difficult to quantify compassion in terms of dollars or percentages, other reductions in his budget simply aren’t very compassionate.
He has proposed reducing food stamps to welfare recipients by $1.1 billion over 10 years. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps people pay their heating bills, would be reduced by 8.4 percent, despite natural gas prices having tripled in recent years. Medicaid, the health program servicing 50 million poor people, would be cut by $60 billion over the next decade. The National Association of Children’s Hospitals said the cuts would force hospitals to reduce or eliminate services, given that Medicaid accounts for 40 percent of the revenue at these hospitals. The association warned that, “the care of all children, not just those on Medicaid, would be affected by the reduction.”
Throughout the budget, the cuts and reductions are consistently at odds with President Bush’s rhetoric. This is particularly the case with the image he has created as a “compassionate conservative.” While the budget doesn’t contain much compassion, it certainly is conservative. In more ways than one.
Gene C. Gerard teaches American history at a small college in suburban Dallas, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book Americana at War. His previous articles have appeared in Dissident Voice, Political Affairs Magazine, The Free Press, Intervention Magazine, The Modern Tribune, and The Palestine Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
State of the Union by Mike Whitney
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