Viewpoint: Bush budget lands on taxpayers

Viewpoint: Bush budget lands on taxpayers

By Joe Baker

Bush budget lands on taxpayers

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

President Bush’s State of the Union address presented the prospect of mind-numbing debt and gave the impression of spending more on guns than on bread and butter domestic issues.

The National Taxpayers Union, however, through its foundation, says domestic spending under the Bush plan will carry a much higher price tag than the military outlay. The NTU said the total tab for the proposed program—both military and domestic—comes to $106.6 billion.

NTU’s senior policy analyst, Tom McClusky, commented: “Although President Bush delivered a loud and clear message on the need to fund the War on Terror, his domestic agenda actually calls for even more spending.”

McClusky reported the Bush blueprint boosts defense and homeland security spending by $51.4 billion per year.

In 1982, under Reagan, defense spending rose by $26.2 billion in today’s dollars. The Bush outlay more than doubles that figure.

The president also proposes to boost domestic spending by $55.2 billion per year. Just one of Bush’s proposals, the reactivation of the AmeriCorps program, is a $5.8 billion item. It is a revival of the program

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pushed by President Clinton, who called for an increase in outlay of only $336 million to such tax-financed volunteer programs in his last State of the Union address. The program has come under fire more than once by the General Accounting Office and the federal Inspector General for fiscal mismanagement.

However, Rockford has an AmeriCorps/YouthBuild program that has met with considerable success, most recently with its new subdivision on the old Valerie Percy Housing Project grounds.

Although President Bush wants more than twice as much in increases for military and security spending as Clinton did in 2000, Clinton wanted more than twice as much in non-military domestic spending.

The domestic spending comparison: $106.6 billion for Bush; $140 billion annually for Clinton.

Just how this administration intends to finance these spending plans was not detailed by the president in his speech. We should know more by the time you read this. Bush was scheduled to release his budget plan Monday for the next fiscal year.

According to The Washington Post, the administration will ask for sharp cuts in highway spending, water projects planned by the Army Corps of Engineers, environmental programs sponsored by Congress, job training and many other domestic programs.

Even more discouraging, the president intends to loot Social Security and Medicare funds, according to administration officials and congressional aides. Already some $40 billion in excess Social Security payments has gone to finance the anti-Taliban campaign in Afghanistan.

The Post claims these funds were previously off limits for other than the intended purposes, but the fact is, the Congress has been routinely siphoning them off for years. Nothing is in the trust funds but treasury bonds that are unmarketable and redeemable only by the taxpayers.

The 2003 budget will contain a cut of $9 billion in highway programs, in large measure because of a formula meant to guarantee the highway trust fund would be fully spent on highways and transit, leaving the states less money to draw upon. Illinois may lose up to 10% of our federal highway funds.

The formula is called the Revenue Aligned Budget Authority, or RABA, according to the Post, and results in big cutbacks in a slow economy. The major loser under this situation will be California, which may lose almost a quarter of the $2.5 billion in federal aid it is to receive this year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Army Corps of Engineers will take a serious hit under the new Bush budget. The administration proposes a cut of 10 to 15 percent in the corps’ financing, a freeze on new projects, and an effort to get Army engineers to focus on flood control, navigation and environmental projects. The White House, last year, tried to slash the corps’ budget by 14 percent, but was thwarted by Congress.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are strongly protesting plans to trim spending for a youth job training program from $225 million this year to $45 million next year. Both parties in Congress overwhelmingly supported the program in 1998.

Under the program, grants are given to 36 cities, including Washington, D.C. The District could lose half of its five-year, $32 million program. Budget analysts say the Bush administration is considering paring an additional $620 million in grants to the states for training and education, including $350 million for youth programs outside the Job Corps. Bush said he will seek a boost of $73 million for the latter program.

The picture looks no better for environmental efforts. Environmentalists anticipate a renewed effort by the administration to reduce spending for water quality programs and to cut back the number of EPA personnel assigned to enforcement of clean air and water laws. Bushites last year tried to wipe out 270 federal enforcement positions, but were blocked by the Senate.

The president is expected to request an overall reduction in EPA spending from this year’s $7.9 billion outlay. Bush was expected to request $2 trillion in overall spending for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. For the first time in several years, spending will exceed income by about $80 billion.

Administration officials project federal spending, other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, is expected to grow by 9 percent next year. Last year, the White House said it would not take excess Social Security payroll taxes to pay down about $2 trillion of the national debt by 2010. Recent budget projections, however, indicate the surplus monies will be taken with little likelihood of any significant reduction in the debt.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, stated: “I think everybody understands our top obligation is to defend the nation. In effect, what the administration is doing is taking Medicare and Social Security funds and using them for tax cuts and additional spending. The question is whether that’s a wise direction for America. I think it is unwise.”

In recent weeks, the White House and federal agencies have made selective announcements of increases in several federal programs that Bush has decided to recommend. In a highly secretive administration, this strategy seems calculated to generate good news about programs important to voter groups whose support will be vital to Republican hopes in this fall’s elections.

The Bush crowd has announced expansion of programs important to Latinos, minorities, the elderly and social conservatives. One of these initiatives is to seek $190 billion in the next 10 years to modernize Medicare. That would help the elderly, but such a move would also plow more federal dollars into the excessively profitable pharmaceutical industry. Some $77 billion of that amount would be used to help low-income elderly afford prescription drugs by subsidizing states with such programs. Illinois is one of them.

Despite the supposed Medicare increase, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-2) has opposed much of Bush’s budget, saying it is too hard on all minorities and the poor.

For the bulk of the taxpayers, though, the future appears to be nothing but a sea of red ink. Some analysts disagree with Bush’s claim that deficit spending will only last a few years. They claim that spending at the level Bush proposes will bring us deficits for at least 10 to 15 years to come.

A large chunk of this spending will be aimed at the Cold War era, failure-ridden missile defense program and even older weapons systems.

While the pay and benefits for our armed forces personnel need to come up, their increase is dwarfed by massive spending on the War on Terrorism, and preparing for bio-terroism. Funds are included in the proposed budget which will allow Bush to wage a yet undetermined conflict overseas.

In other words, fear, the pharmaceutical companies and military-industrial complex will rake in our tax dollars while the poor and other domestic concerns get the empty bushel basket.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue. It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright.”

Reading Bush Jr.’s good ol’ taxing lips, you should get that “empty” feeling.

Editor and Publisher Frank Schier contributed to this editorial.

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