Time to pay the bills
Published February 16, 2005

The Bush Administration has just released its newest budget, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with continuing reckless tax cuts and ballooning deficits the like of which we’ve never seen, are finally taking their expected toll. Bush has sold his plans to America as having our cake and eating it too, that somehow we could all have big tax breaks (bigger for some, of course, than others) and yet continue to receive the benefits of government programs that we all have come to expect as part of our due.

Economic reality has finally caught up with Americans, it seems, though not yet with the President. He’s still submitting a budget with a deficit bigger than any in history; it may seem smaller than last year at the moment, but let’s remember the minimum of $80 billion for the war effort that is, for some reason, not budgeted in the budget. Can someone explain how that works to me?

So, where is the piper to be paid? Mostly in assistance for the poor, who have always borne the brunt of society’s costs; somewhat ironic, considering they are the least able to pay, but they also tend to have the least power to fend off attacks, so the calculus makes some sense.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will see some of the biggest cuts, but housing the homeless and helping the poor buy their own homes is certainly a waste of money. Similarly, food stamps, which will see eligibility cuts saving a hair over a billion dollars in the next ten years, are hardly a high priority for those who can afford to pay their own grocery bills and don’t have to worry about having many young mouths to feed on a tight budget. While Medicare for the elderly will see the implementation of a staggering $760 billion drug benefit—who knows what else will be cut to pay for that—Medicare will allow states to reduce benefits for millions of low-income people.

It’s not just the poor in this country that are getting hit. Food and development aid money for poor countries around the world is slashed in the new budget as well, leaving many organizations without the ability to stem chronic hunger and other problems in developing nations. But, those people don’t vote here, so, really, who cares about them anyway?

Money for preventative health care is being slashed as well, so our poor will end up having to go to the hospital for an emergency procedure that will end up costing many times what a little prevention might have done. Heating assistance for the poor will also be cut.

The Education Department will be hit hard too, losing money for programs promoting drug-free schools and literacy, as well as college grants for poor students and money for the reduction of alcohol abuse among students. Will this leave any children behind? I reckon so.

In fairness, the Department of Health and Human Services will see an increase in funding for its program to build health clinics in poor neighborhoods; NASA will get a 2.4 percent increase to its budget to help with our future trips to Mars; and the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security will see some big jumps in spending. So for some, the picture is a good deal more rosy, and not without justification.

It’s also worth noting that some of these cuts are probably ones worth making; shrinking spending was a strong priority during the Clinton Administration—thanks also in large part to pressure from the Gingrich-era Republicans in Congress—and they were responsible for a balanced budget that seemed almost miraculous. Why do we not have that now? Because of tax cuts.

The new Bush Administration budget works hard to make his tax cuts a permanent feature of the economic landscape. When they are fully phased in over ten years, we’ll be losing more than a trillion dollars of revenue. Meanwhile, overall spending is not dropping, despite the cuts to social services and domestic programs, because of the increases for military operations overseas.

So, the future course we’re on comes down to a simple choice: we can either continue to run up ever-increasing budget deficits, which will eventually eat up more and more of our budget in interest payments; or we will cut deeper and deeper into the social safety net, to the point where poor people in the richest country in the world will be dying of malnutrition, cold, and easily preventable diseases. All for the sake of tax cuts that, for most of us, amount to a few dollars a day.

Wait a few years. We’ll see then if I’m exaggerating.