George W. Bush’s budget is a true lie. Framed for the election campaign, it lies about the causes and the depths of our staggering fiscal decline, masks the costs of Bush’s tax cuts and his wars, hides the hit the poor will take and the lucre the rich will get. Yet this election-year budget also tells the truth about Bush’s priorities.
Tax cuts come first. Despite the fiscal hole that has been dug on his watch (from a projected $5.6 trillion surplus over ten years to a $2.9 trillion deficit over the same period), Bush wants to keep digging, calling on Congress for another $1.2 trillion in tax cuts by making the cuts permanent and adding more ways for the wealthy to sock money away tax free. Bush has provided millionaires with $90,000 a year in tax breaks, while reducing corporate tax receipts to levels as a percentage of GDP not seen since the 1930s. The President will never worry about paying for his party.
War and the preparation for war come next. Outlays for national defense, homeland security and military aid programs will total $500 billion next year, not counting the actual costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, certain to add $50 billion more in a supplemental request that will come just after the election. Our military budget, already greater than 40 percent of the world’s total military spending, is up 35 percent since Bush took office. We’ll spend more on research and development for new weapons than any other country spends on its entire military, but that apparently is not enough. The President rails against wasteful spending but throws billions more at a Pentagon that cannot account for what it has spent or what it has bought and is the largest source of waste, fraud and abuse in the government.
Other initiatives are largely for show, given token funds to enable the President to talk about them. Poor schools and special education gain $1 billion apiece, but Bush abandoned his promise to pay for his reforms by some $9.4 billion this year alone. He will campaign as the education President, but he’ll be nowhere to be found when it comes to meeting the challenge of educating the next generation. He touts funds for community colleges as his “Jobs for the 21st Century” initiative, but his $250 million for 1,200 community colleges won’t come close to making up for the cuts they’ve taken from strapped state budgets. And he cuts another billion from adult education and training programs. He promises a trip to the moon and Mars, but the funding won’t take NASA much past Miami. He touts his “compassion capital fund,” which at $100 million is the definition of cheap grace–it doesn’t begin to match the billions slashed from housing and childcare and other core poverty programs.
The President packages his cuts–in environmental protection, housing, childcare, education and training–as good-government reforms, but he’s essentially sending the poorest Americans much of the tab for his top-end tax cuts. For a third the cost of making his tax cuts permanent, the Children’s Defense Fund reports, we could provide health insurance to America’s 9 million uninsured children, provide Head Start for every eligible child and pay the salaries of 100,000 more teachers to reduce class size.
Will the Bush program sell? The President will wrap himself in the flag, pray the business cycle goes his way and pretend his gestures are real. He’ll lie about the hole we’re in and ignore the needs unmet. But his legacy is clear: wars abroad, deepening inequality and widening poverty at home. This is a budget that cuts the taxes of millionaires while teachers are being laid off and children are losing healthcare. It is hard to imagine a greater disservice to our future.