Bush’s Budget: The Poor Pay for the War

The president’s budget is what you might expect from a collaboration between Ebeneezer Scrooge and Otto Bismark – lots of martial money paid for by cutting Tiny Tim’s health insurance and sticking him back on the street to beg. His own contribution consists of lying about what it means.

As Bush has learned nothing from the Iraq war, so has he learned nothing from the utter failure of his low-tax experiment or the meaning of the November election. Soundly repudiated on all fronts, he is nevertheless plunging ahead with yet another attempt to gut Medicare and Medicaid, privatize Social Security – or failing that, destroy it – and rip away what’s left of any welfare program not aimed at the rich, the corporatocracy, and/or the military-industrial complex.

The equation isn’t even hidden. He doesn’t bother. On the one hand, there’s Bismark’s martial build-up:

President Bush’s defense budget request of $481.4 billion — an 11 percent boost over last year — pushes U.S. defense spending to levels not seen since the Reagan-era buildup of the 1980s.

In addition, the president is seeking a projected $141.7 billion in emergency supplemental funding for 2008 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for broader anti-terrorism efforts — bringing the total spent in those arenas since 2001 to $661 billion, eclipsing in real terms the cost of the Vietnam War.

On the other, Scrooge’s plan for paying for it:

President Bush took aim yesterday at domestic spending as part of a plan to balance the budget in five years without raising taxes while increasing funding for the Iraq war and permanently expanding the military.

With the $2.9 trillion budget he submitted to Congress, Bush signaled he would attempt to squeeze spending on health care, education, housing and other domestic programs important to the Democratic majority for the duration of his term. Overall domestic spending would be held below the rate of inflation in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and frozen thereafter.

The new Bush budget would also seek to reduce the rapid rate of growth in Medicare and Medicaid, trimming $101 billion from the two programs over the next five years by reducing payments to health-care providers and forcing wealthier seniors to pay more for physician services and prescription drug coverage. And it would provide additional funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but not enough to maintain the same enrollment over the next five years, according to independent analysts.

And all topped off by sleight-of-hand accounting that makes Enron’s look innocuous by comparison.

While all presidential budgets are political documents as much as economic plans, this one, Democrats said, would get little hearing on Capitol Hill. They said the budget was built on flawed assumptions and fiscal trickery, including the failure to include estimates for the long-term cost of the war.

“What he’s saying is, basically you can have it all — you can spend the money, especially on defense and the war, and you can cut every tax, and it all works,” Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said in an interview. “But in the real world, it doesn’t work out.”

Matt Yglesias notes that a single item controlled by a single trick has successfully hidden almost $40Bil from the public.

One of the many scandals of the Iraq War has been the way in which its real budgetary cost has been obscured from the American people. Not only were we told boldfaced lies before the invasion, but ever since the invasion happened the White House has for years not only refused to budget for the war in advance, but requested supplemental appropriations that clearly weren’t covering the actual cost.

In an NYT Op-Ed, Steven Rattner discloses an even more egregious bit of accounting tomfoolery that exposes Bush’s claim that SocSec is “in crisis” for the bold-faced lie it is.

[T]he official accounting is also misleading another way — specifically, in the way it handles Social Security. In 2006, the federal government received $185 billion more in Social Security taxes than it paid out in benefits. Unlike a private company, which keeps such overages in its pension fund to cover future benefits, the White House pockets the money and declares the deficit to be smaller.

Thus creating a potential crisis where none existed before. And then, of course, there is what has been simply left out of the budget altogether.

Pentagon officials noted that the 2008 supplemental request does not include additional funding for Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. The most recent 2007 supplemental request of $93 billion includes $5.6 billion to add five Army brigades and 4,000 Marines to the force in Iraq.

Oh. And:

Mr. Bush’s balance is more illusory than real. It ignores known costs such as ameliorating the impact of the alternative minimum tax, which would top $90 billion in 2012 alone; the administration, once again, would simply affix a one-year patch for 2008. It assumes the government will collect far more revenue than the Congressional Budget Office projects, amounting to a $150 billion difference in 2012. No one should start spending Mr. Bush’s projected surplus.

But the most astounding claim of all – that the budget will be balanced by 2010 – is the one that made Ezra Klein’s jaw drop like a sprung trap door.

[I]f you want some real anti-war sentiment, you got to check out the new Bush administration budget projections:

Their request, for the first time, attempts to show the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming fiscal year, $145 billion, but includes just $50 billion for fiscal 2009 and nothing thereafter.

And nothing thereafter. So in fiscal year 2010, the Bush administration is officially projecting that we will not have one troop, not one civil servant, not one installation or falafel receipt or Halliburton disbursement in Iraq or Afghanistan. There will be a total withdrawal, with absolutely no associated or lingering costs. (emphasis in the original)

That isn’t just faith-based, it’s pure fantasy, and it runs counter to what he has said for the past 4 years ad nauseum: that we won’t leave Iraq until “the job is done”. Apparently, we are, or else he thinks he can do in the next 2 years what he hasn’t been able to do in the last 4. And what about the 23 permanent bases Halliburton/KBR is building in Iraq? No mention of them.

Yes, presidential budgets have always been more political documents than actual fiduciary proposals but not until Bush did they become political documents only, totally divorced from any kind of reality. Nor has any other president in living memory had the arrogance and the gall to so openly announce that he was going to pay for his Imperium by punishing the weakest members of the community – children, the poor, the sick.

Ordinarily in a Democratic-controlled Congress, this budget wouldn’t stand a chance.

“This budget was probably dead before typesetting, not even dead on arrival,” said Stan Collender , a budget specialist and the managing director at Qorvis Communications, a Washington-based public relations firm. “A lame duck [Republican president] with a Democratic majority doesn’t have the ability to ask for [something] and just have it happen.”

But at this point, even though everybody knows what needs to be done and should be done, it isn’t at all clear that it will or even can be done.

Just hours after the budget message was released, the Senate was locked in a procedural showdown over the Iraq resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s troop buildup. Disagreements on the war, within parties and between them, are so profound that Senator Conrad, the Budget Committee chairman, predicted that a fight over Iraq spending might prevent his committee from adopting any budget at all.

“Can you imagine getting every Democrat to agree on spending for the war?” Mr. Conrad asked.

DLC-dominant Blue Dogs are dragging their feet just like the Pubs. Conrad again:

The box that the Democrats find themselves in is likely to remain a factor in their spending decisions this year.

Even Senator Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and the biggest Cassandra in Congress about the perils of continued deficits, seemed to acknowledge that he had had trouble convincing even fellow Democrats of the urgency of the long-term fiscal problems.

“Let me be frank,” Mr. Conrad said at a recent budget hearing. “We’re having a very difficult time persuading our colleagues and the administration of the need for urgent action.”

For all her brave campaign-talk, is Hillary going to risk the ire of the Right to cut war funding or defy her own party’s DLC-led decision to cut spending for every appropriation increase? Is Biden? Or Pelosi? Because if they stick to it, it’s going to be practically impossible to restore the domestic cuts without raising taxes and they’re not willing to take the chance and brave the blowback. The most obvious solution is to rescind the Bush tax cuts but they’re not even willing to do that. And even if they were, how would they get it past the Senate and the Republican determination to filibuster everything the Democrats try to do?

At this point, it’s impossible to tell how this is going to finally shake out but there’s one prediction I feel safe in making:

One way or another, Democratic Congress or not, the working class, the middle class, the poor, and helpless kids are going to wind up getting short-changed at a minimum or totally screwed at a maximum.

Just like always.

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