|February 6, 2007|
||In Deep Hock|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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In Deep Hock
President Bush yesterday sent Congress his 2008 budget, a $2.9 trillion behemoth. The biggest winner is the Defense Department, which would receive an 11 percent boost in funding. Wealthy Americans would also receive a handsome payoff if the President’s tax cuts are made permanent, as the budget calls for. The biggest losers are ordinary Americans, who would see sharp cuts to health care, education, environmental programs, and development assistance. Additionally, this budget shows that Bush’s commitment to fiscal discipline — like his commitment to eradicating inequality — is nothing more than empty rhetoric. ”According to the president’s own numbers,” Center for American Progress Director of Tax and Budget Policies John Irons writes, “the proposed tax policies would add $600 billion to deficits over the next five years, and $1.9 trillion over the next ten.” President Bush has “consistently understated the effect on deficits and debt of their budget, and unfortunately America is going being to be in deep hock after this administration leaves town,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) said yesterday.
DESTROYING AMERICA’S FISCAL FUTURE: Bush claims that his 2008 budget is fiscally responsible because it will balance the federal budget by 2012. But as the Washington Post notes, Bush’s “balance is more illusory than real.” The $77 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are unlikely to receive broad support from either party in Congress. He does not account for Iraq war costs beyond 2008, nor does he “include the cost of extending changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax beyond 2008,” which “would top $90 billion in 2012 alone.” It also “assumes the government will collect far more revenue than the Congressional Budget Office projects, amounting to a $150 billion difference in 2012.” Judd Gregg (R-NH), the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, admitted, “I don’t think it [Bush’s budget] has got a whole lot of legs.”
MISPLACED PRIORITIES ON DEFENSE: Bush’s defense requests for 2008 total $716.5 billion, including $481.4 billion for the Pentagon’s budget, an 11 percent increase from its current level. He also asked for “an additional $100 billion for Iraq and the global war on terrorism this year, on top of $70 billion already sought.” For 2008, the budget includes spending of $145 billion and $50 billion in 2009, “although administration officials conceded that the 2008 and 2009 requests could go higher depending on the progress of the war effort.” According to the Congressional Research Service, total spending on the Iraq war for fiscal years 2001 through 2006 was $318.5 billion. The Bush budget would bring total proposed spending in Iraq to $683 billion through 2009, eclipsing the amount spent ($662 billion) in the 10-year Vietnam War. Another $140 billion is allocated for weapons procurement, research, and development. As the New York Times notes, much of this money is wasted on “products of cold war strategic thinking [that] have outlived their rationale in a world with no superpower arms race.” For example, Bush asks for $4.6 billion to purchase 20 more F-22A Raptor fighters, which was “originally designed for air-to-air combat against Soviet-style MIG fighters” and is “arguably the most unnecessary weapon system currently built by the Pentagon.”
UNDERFUNDING HOMELAND SECURITY: Keeping America safe requires more than expensive weapons and war funding; it also requires a commitment to homeland security. Bush’s 2008 budget neglects that commitment. National Journal notes that “funding for state homeland security grants would be less than half the current level, falling from $510 million to $250 million. Grant assistance to firefighters would be cut from $662 million to $300 million. And law enforcement terrorism prevention program grants would drop from $363 million to $262 million.” State and local law enforcement assistance grants would be cut by 70 percent. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said the budget request “again highlights the chronic and troubling under funding of first-responder grant programs.” She added that a reduction for the state homeland security grants program “will be a severe blow to states’ abilities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to terrorist attacks and other emergencies.” As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow P.J. Crowley notes, “The federal government needs to significantly increase federal homeland security grants in order to support the country’s security and preparedness requirements as well as provide more first-operability.”
MEDICAL EMERGENCY: The “number of Americans without health insurance has grown to an unfathomable level — nearly 47 million.” The Center for American Progress reports, “As health care costs have skyrocketed, employer-sponsored coverage has eroded, and the cost of private coverage has spiraled out of reach, many families and children who cannot otherwise afford coverage have turned to the Medicaid and SCHIP programs. Since 2000, 6.8 million people have lost health coverage, but SCHIP and Medicaid ensured that the proportion of low-income children without health insurance actually declined during this period, from 20 percent in 2000 to D14 percent in 2005.” Bush’s 2008 budget would reverse this positive trend. He proposes slashing the programs by at least $77 billion over the next five years, and $280 billion over the next ten. More than six million people with disabilities and five million people over the age of 85 receive assistance from Medicare. “Fifty percent of people with Medicare coverage have incomes below $20,000 a year, and nine out of 10 Medicare beneficiaries have at least one chronic health problem.” While the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) would receive $5 billion more in funding over five years, in reality, its funding is being cut. The Congressional Research Service estimates that “$15 billion would be needed to cover everyone who now receives benefits.” Rich Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association noted, “[The] budget is devastating news for children, seniors and the disabled who depend on the Medicare and Medicaid programs. They are being unfairly singled out to carry the burden of achieving a balanced budget.”
INCREASING INEQUALITY: On Jan. 31, Bush headed to Wall Street and acknowledged for the first time that income inequality exists in America: “The fact is that income inequality is real. It has been rising for more than 25 years.” But apparently, he’s not quite ready to do anything about it. Low- and middle-income Americans are hit the hardest by Bush’s 2008 budget. A total of 141 government programs will be eliminated or sharply reduced if the budget is enacted. Bush cuts housing for low-income seniors by nearly 25 percent, a program to provide low-income people with assistance paying heating costs by 18 percent, funding for community development grants by 12.7 percent, and grants for education and employment training by 8 percent. Bush’s budget also cuts funding for child care and HeadStart, an early education program for low-income children. It also provides no new funds for family planning, even though 1 million more women are in need of contraceptive services and supplies since 2001. The bottom line: 200,000 fewer low-income children would receive child care assistance. Wealthy Americans, however, will not have to suffer under Bush’s budget, which proposes making his tax cuts permanent at a cost of $1.6 trillion over 10 years. According to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, “if the President’s tax cuts are made permanent, households in the top 1 percent of the population (currently those with incomes over $400,000) will receive tax cuts averaging $67,000 a year by 2012. In today’s dollars, that amount is larger than the entire income of the typical American household.”
MAKING AMERICA LESS CLEAN: The media applauded Bush’s new commitment to the environment and combating climate change in his 2007 State of the Union address. But his 2008 budget doesn’t live up to his rhetoric, granting drilling leases in the Alaskan wilderness to oil companies and cutting the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by $116 million. He has also proposed a $35 million decrease in funding “for State and local programs that help keep our air clean in our cities and states,” a $5 million decrease in funding for the EPA’s science and technology budget for climate protection, and a $7 million decrease in funding for cleanups at Superfund sites, efforts which are meant to clean up the nation’s most heavily contaminated toxic waste sites in communities across the country.”
GLOBAL WARMING — ONLY 13 PERCENT OF CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS BELIEVE IN MAN-MADE CLIMATE CHANGE: National Journal has released a new “Congressional Insiders Poll,” which surveyed 113 members of Congress — 10 Senate Democrats, 48 House Democrats, 10 Senate Republicans, and 45 House Republicans — about their positions on global warming. The results are startling. Only 13 percent of congressional Republicans say they believe that human activity is causing global warming, compared to 95 percent of congressional Democrats. Moreover, the number of Republicans who believe in human-induced global warming has actually dropped since April 2006 — when the number was 23 percent — despite multiple authoritative reports confirming climate science. In June 2006, the National Academy of Sciences, an independent organization created by Congress to provide scientific guidance, unequivocally concluded that natural causes cannot explain the unprecedented warmth over the last 400 years. Rather, “human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming,” the report states. This month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “concluded for the first time that global warming is ‘unequivocal’ and that human activity is the main driver, ‘very likely’ causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950.” Nevertheless, belief in global warming among Republicans in Congress dropped by 10 points.
LABOR — KENNEDY AND MILLER REINTRODUCE EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT: Today, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) will introduce the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill “which would not only streamline unionizing, but also assure newly organized workers a contract and sanction lawbreakers” who deny workers their right to organize. A 2005 survey found “53 percent of nonunion workers – that’s more than 50 million people – want to join a union, if given the choice.” But according to Human Rights Watch, “Legal obstacles tilt the playing field so steeply against freedom of association that the United States is in violation of international human rights standards for workers.” The Employee Free Choice Act would work to break down the barriers workers face when they unite to bargain for better wages and benefits from their employers. “Corporate executives are able to negotiate lavish pay and retirement packages for themselves,” a spokesman for Miller said. “Workers ought to at least have the ability to bargain for better wages and benefits.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has said the House will vote on the bill this session. Learn more about the legislation here.
HOMELAND SECURITY — REPORT DETAILS ABUSE AND INADEQUATE MEDICAL CARE AT IMMIGRATION DETENTION CENTERS: The Department of Homeland Security released a report detailing mistreatment of immigrants at five detention centers across the country used by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The investigation, conducted last month, focused on the centers’ compliance with ICE Detention standards for health care, environmental health safety, general conditions of confinement, and reporting of abuse. Among the allegations: a failure to administer adequate medical care, including negligent attentiveness to detainees on suicide watch and hunger strikes, as well as a failure to give required medical screenings to some. One female detainee complained that a guard sexually assaulted her, but the local U.S. attorney’s office chose not to prosecute the case. Furthermore, one center had not “established a process detainees can use to report abuse or civil rights violations and has not granted them sufficient access to legal materials.” DHS made over a dozen recommendations to improve the care of detainees at the centers. ICE responded to the allegations of mistreatment in the report by arguing the data was not statistically significant. ”The inspector general staff based their report on visits to five of these facilities and, according to the report, did not use statistical sampling in selecting the subjects for their interviews,” said ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi.
Conservative senators may have blocked debate on Iraq yesterday, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promised, “We are going back to Iraq again and again and again. The debate on Iraq is going to continue. The American people demand it.” Reid told conservative senators on the floor: “You can run but you can’t hide.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) have reached a deal to create a special committee on climate change, paving the way “for global warming to be a centerpiece” of Congress’ agenda this year.
“Bush’s proposal to increase the maximum Pell Grant for lower-income undergraduate students was greeted with fanfare when it was announced last week. But his FY08 budget released Monday contains no new money to pay for it,” CongressDaily reports.
Four times last year, President Bush stood with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and four times he offered glowing appraisals. “Now, though, the president’s comments about the Iraqi leader are couched with conditions and caution — rhetorical loopholes Bush will need to defend himself if the man on whom he has pinned everything fails.”
Jeremy Grantham, Vice President Cheney’s investment manager, criticized the administration’s oil-based energy policy in a letter mailed last week to all his clients, including the vice president. “Successive U.S. administrations have taken little interest in either oil substitution or climate change,” he wrote, “and the current one has even seemed to have a vested interest in the idea that the science of climate change is uncertain.”
Prosecutors in Scooter Libby’s perjury trial yesterday played audio tapes of Libby’s grand jury testimony. “The sound of Mr. Libby’s disembodied voice in the courtroom vividly underlined the contrast between his sworn account and the testimony of the parade of prosecution witnesses presented to the jury over the last two weeks.”
And finally: Yesterday on the Senate floor, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) interrupted Iraq proceedings to discuss…the importance of oxygen. “The Miner Act required additional oxygen. Ah! I can only live with oxygen. You can only live with oxygen. You, Mr. President, can only live with oxygen. You can’’t live without it long. I mean by that, without it, a few, f-e-w, minutes, oxygen. It’’s been around since Adam and Eve inhabited the garden of Eden.”