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BUDGET 'CUTS' ARE MOSTLY SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., proclaimed victory for budget-cutting conservatives, declaring “The American people wanted Washington to pay for Katrina with budget cuts and Washington got the message.”
On the other side of the aisle, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi found occasion to revile budget-cutters as child haters and perhaps -- her comments are still being deconstructed -- agents of Satan.
“As the Bible teaches us,” intoned the newly born-again Ms. Pelosi, as behind her Reps. DeLauro, Rangel and Sanchez rose in black robes to hum an old Baptist hymn, “to minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship; to ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us. Let us vote ‘No’ on this budget as an act of worship and for America’s children.”
From these declarations, the casual passer-by might conclude that a slim Republican majority of 212-206 has just sent to the Senate a bill which slashes federal spending to levels not seen since the Eisenhower administration -- if not the days of Calvin Coolidge -- closing down entire federal agencies and programs, including any federal aid to schooling or children’s health care.
Amidst wailing and moaning, we might expect helicopter footage even now to show us vast hordes of federal employees, steamer trunks tied to the roofs of their SUVs, clogging the exits from the capital in a mass exodus not seen since the Iraqi army fled Kuwait along the “Highway of Death.”
Back in the real world, however, nothing of the sort is happening, and even the pallid claim that this budget bill “trims 1 percent across the board from hundreds of federal programs” turns out to be pure Washington-speak, “trim” referring in this case to a cut not from current budget levels, but rather from the astronomical levels of growth previously anticipated.
The reality is that federal spending will continue to grow at unprecedented levels under this proposed budget, as will the government’s gross debt, now estimated at more than $8 trillion (a figure surpassed for the first time on Oct. 18 of this year), or $27,000 for each and every one of us (got your checkbook handy?) and continuing to grow at a rate of $2.83 billion per day.
Medicare’s costly new prescription drug benefit, an $18 trillion unfunded liability sponsored by the White House and Republican leadership? It will still kick in, come January. And just two years from now, in 2008, the enormous Baby Boom generation will still begin retiring, ceasing income tax payments and starting to collect benefits, leading to a budget squeeze unprecedented in U.S. history.
Those “cuts” that Democrats have been gnashing their teeth over?
“Total spending increases under the current President Bush closely rival those of President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat famous for conducting the Vietnam War while simultaneously increasing domestic spending,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Nov. 27. “Discretionary spending rose 48.5 percent in Bush’s first term, according to an analysis by the libertarian Cato Institute, twice as much as in two terms under President Bill Clinton, when spending rose 21.6 percent. Adjusted for inflation, Bush has increased total spending at an annualized rate of 5.6 percent, compared with 1.5 percent under Clinton.”
Republicans claim this budget package will result in $39.7 billion in “savings” over the next five years, but much of that is back-loaded, parts of these “savings” are in fact hoped-for revenues from selling off new frequencies in the analog spectrum, and even in the best case The Associated Press reports the whole shebang will result in a mere 2.5 percent reduction in the $1.6 trillion in total red ink that congressional officials estimate would otherwise have piled up over the next five years.
The Washington Post reports “The budget accord would cut less than one-half of 1 percent from a projected $14.3 trillion in federal spending over the next five years.”
Again, that’s not a “cut” from current spending levels -- merely a 0.5 percent reduction from the current, 5.4 percent annual rate of growth.
Anxious to rebut leftist assertions that the results of Hurricane Katrina show they don’t care about black folk (despite new statistics showing white people died pretty much in proportion to their ratio of the New Orleans population), House Republicans in this budget bill throw another $29 billion at anyone who so much as heard the wind blow in Louisiana this Fall.
Think the $453 billion Pentagon spending bill is stripped down to armor and ammo for the troops? There’s $1.5 million in there for a new radiation therapy system for the Nevada Cancer Institute.
Earlier attempts to trim crop subsidies and food stamps? Gone. The scheduled 4.6 percent cut in doctor’s Medicare fees, which might have saved $7.3 billion over five years? Gone.
That dairy farmer support program that was supposed to be eliminated? Restored at the behest of Senate budget negotiator Norm Coleman, R-Minn.
Even an oxygen supplier in Ohio managed to get their Senate budget negotiator, George Voinovich, to restore a $1.9 billion cut that would have -- somehow, supposedly -- hurt the bottled oxygen business.
So pay no attention to reports that the bad old GOP Grinch stole Washington’s Christmas, this year. Instead, get ready to pay and pay, come April 15. Because the piles of loot under the Congressional Christmas tree are starting to look like that little girl in the TV commercial left Santa a whole lot of cheese.