February 7, 2005
Today is the day the President puts his money where his mouth is. In his State of the Union address last Wednesday, Bush said, "a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable."
In his $2.5 trillion budget proposal, unveiled to Congress today, he proposed slashing domestic programs that benefit the poor.
Bush's budget cuts $45 billion out of Medicaid. It cuts community development funds by 4.5 percent, and reduces the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 11.5 percent overall. It increases veterans' co-pays for prescription drugs to more than double what they pay now, and, according to The New York Times today, would ask some veterans "to pay a new fee of $250 for the privilege of using government health care."
Incredibly, in the wake of September 11, Bush also calls for a 30 percent cut in funding for the federal program that provides equipment, training, and staff to local fire departments, as well as cuts for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including a 64 percent cut to a program for training nurses and other health professionals, and a 12.6 percent to cut in bioterrorism preparedness funding.
All of this domestic cutting is supposed to calm the deficit hawks in the Republican Party and on Wall Street, who are alarmed at how this Administration has taken the federal government from surplus to record deficits in the space of four years.
But the budget leaves out all the big-ticket items, ignoring altogether the future cost of the war in Iraq and continued military operations in Afghanistan. (The White House is preparing to make another $80 billion request to fund these operations in the next few days.)
The President's budget doesn't even touch on Bush's biggest domestic-policy initiative for this term: the privatization of Social Security, and the massive borrowing necessary to get his plan for private accounts off the ground.
And Bush's budget is particularly galling given that he still plans on giving $1.8 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.
"We calculate that 257,000 American millionaires are scheduled to receive an average of $123,592 each in federal tax breaks this year," says Dr. Elizabeth A. Letzler of the group Responsible Wealth, an organization of affluent Americans who reject Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy (www.responsiblewealth.org). Letzler spoke to a group gathered at the National Press Club today. "That alone totals $32 billion," she said.
But why scale back tax cuts for millionaires when you can take the money out of Medicaid, the major health-care program for the poor?
What does Bush mean when he says our society can be measured by how we treat the weak and vulnerable?
That slapping the weak, the elderly, and the poor, while coddling the rich shows what big bullies we are?
The context for Bush's line about the weak and vulnerable was abortion and medical research. "We must strive to build a culture of life," he said in the same breath, and then thanked Congress for increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health.
It was a way of waving at his anti-abortion base, alluding to his opposition to stem-cell research, and suggesting that he supports treatments and cures for people with illnesses and disabilities--as long as the research doesn't involve human embryos.
It's a convoluted message, and one that is exposed as utterly hypocritical by the cold hard facts.
Bush likes to reach out to religious conservatives, flattering himself, and them, by suggesting that he's enacting a Christian program that benefits the oppressed of the earth. It reminds me of some wealthy white people I know who have moved to gated communities to get away from the urban schools, on the pretext that their children will be less likely to grow up racist if they are not exposed to poor black kids. (Neoliberal pundit Mickey Kaus actually endorsed this thinking in his book The End Of Equality.)
Anyway, all that high-flown talk about caring and freedom and equality turns out to be a thin cover for greed. Give me a big tax cut, slash government programs like housing and transportation (Bush's budget eliminates federal funds for Amtrak), screw Social Security--a lifeline for the elderly who don't have a big cushion of wealth to fall back on when they can't work anymore. Just give me the cash and I'll pay my own way.
For people who don't need the benefits of basic federal programs, this live-and-let-die attitude might work out. If it makes them feel better to rationalize it with a lot of bunkum about an "ownership society," or protecting their kids from racism by avoiding contact with a diverse group of other kids, or by wringing their hands over children who have never been born, while neglecting those who are here, fine. But let's not pretend the Republicans are up to anything more than making the rich richer.
"African Americans and Latinos have been particularly hard hit by the economic policies of this president," Congressional Black Caucus co-founder Walter Fauntroy pointed out during the Responsible Wealth press conference.
He cites a new report from United for a Fair Economy showing that since 2000, more than a third of the progress made in the 1990s in reducing poverty among African-American families has been erased, as 300,000 of these families fell below the poverty line from 2000 to 2003.
"President Bush is waging an all out attack on sensible programs that ensure retirement security and make health care affordable for America's working families," said Representative Pete Stark, (D-California), at the same event. "Republicans say they want to privatize Social Security to create an 'ownership society,' when what they're really telling working Americans is, you're on your own."
If people of conscience, whatever their political affiliation, are moved by the notion of caring for the weak, they can see that Bush's budget does the opposite of that.
Surely there are conservative, pro-lifer Christians who respond to Bush's Biblical allusions, and who honestly believe in helping the poor.
Bush's budget should turn their stomachs.
By his own measure this is a President who is failing to meet the most basic test of justice and morality.