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Economy: Bush’s Budget Games

Yesterday, after meeting with his economic advisers at the Treasury Department, President Bush "vowed to veto spending bills that exceed his targets" for the fiscal year 2008 federal budget while accusing congressional leaders "of plotting the largest tax increase in history to fund an additional $205 billion in discretionary spending over five years."

AUGUST 9 , 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ECONOMY

Bush’s Budget Games

Yesterday, after meeting with his economic advisers at the Treasury Department, President Bush “vowed to veto spending bills that exceed his targets” for the fiscal year 2008 federal budget while accusing congressional leaders “of plotting the largest tax increase in history to fund an additional $205 billion in discretionary spending over five years.” “If the majority in Congress gets it way, American families, small businesses will face a massive tax hike,” threatened Bush. “Today, the President misled the nation about the budget Congress sent him,” replied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “The New Direction Congress passed a responsible budget that restores fiscal responsibility and makes up for the disastrous cuts the President has made to vital services for Americans.” Congress’s budget plan is only “seven-tenths of one percent different from his spending plan,” she added. In February, Bush presented a $2.9 trillion spending plan to Congress, “proposing to spend billions more to fight the war in Iraq while squeezing the rest of the government.” The President’s plan, which “relies on budgetary gimmicks and unrealistic assumptions” in order to appear fiscally responsible, freezes “the entire domestic side of government” and would “force cutbacks that most Americans would view as painful and unnecessary.” Despite Bush’s budget bullying, Congress has stepped up to ensure that programs important to the majority of Americans remain solvent.

PREVENTING CUTS TO VITAL PROGRAMS: Bush argues that Congress’ budget increases are extraneous because “his budget already contains a $60 billion increase in discretionary spending.” But all of that increase goes to just four out of 12 appropriations bills — the four bills that fund defense, veterans affairs, foreign affairs, and homeland security — leaving behind vital domestic programs “facing substantial cuts” due to inflation and rising costs. Bush’s budget cuts hit important programs in education, health care, conservation, low-income assistance, housing and even law enforcement. For instance, “the President’s budget cuts overall funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), our most important center for medical research, by $279 million below FY 2007.” Congress restored this cut but has drawn a veto threat. Additionally, Bush’s “proposal would result in $77 billion in funding cuts for Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years, and $280 billion over the next 10.” Despite the need for America to move towards sustainable energy independence, the White House “cut research at the Department of Energy on energy efficiency and renewable energy by $238 million below current-year levels, research on fossil fuels by $26 million, and research on electricity by $23 million.” Congress has moved to not only restore, but to increase funding for such key priorities.

DOMESTIC CUTS HAVE CONSEQUENCES:
In Minnesota last week, a bridge that had been rated “structurally deficient” by the U.S. Department of Transportation, collapsed, killing at least five people and harming dozens more. Though the cause of the bridge’s collapse is still uncertain, the disaster has refocused attention on America’s ailing infrastructure, which Congress has sought to improve, much to Bush’s chagrin. Just two weeks before the collapse, the House Appropriations Committee explained why it had added $631 million more than Bush requested to “legislation that would fund the nation’s highway system.” “It is well documented that our nation’s transportation infrastructure is aging,” said the committee. “Without additional revenues for transportation investment, the nation will be unable to reduce congestion, maintain aging bridges and highways, or expand capacity.” Days later, the White House threatened to veto the bill because of the funding increase. Even though America’s water infrastructure is in worse shape than its bridges, the President proposed cutting funding for it by 20 percent — a proposal that the House rejected, instead adding $186 million. Without increased funding, America’s infrastructure will only deteriorate further.

BUSH’S ‘DRUNKEN SAILOR’ HYPOCRISY: “Receiving a lecture on fiscal responsibility from President Bush is a little bit like getting a lecture on the Freedom of Information Act from the Vice President,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) yesterday. “That is, it strains credulity.” As Hoyer points out, for Bush to all of a sudden preach strict fiscal discipline is the height of hypocrisy, considering he “has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson.”  In six years, the administration turned the “projected 10-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion when it took office” into “more than $3 trillion in additional debt.” During this time, Bush allowed Congress to “spend money like a drunken sailor,” as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recently described it, by failing to veto a single spending bill sent to him when members of his own party controlled Congress. Despite his call for spending restraint in the current budget fight, Bush is seeking a fresh round of tax cuts for corporations that would further deprive revenue for important programs. Bush has no credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility — only a penchant for irresponsibility and political gamesmanship.

UNDER THE RADAR

NATIONAL SECURITY — REP. SESTAK: ‘WE SHOULD HAVE STOOD UP AND SAID NO’ ON FISA BILL: In an interview with The Progress Report, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) expressed his disappointment with the recent revisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over the weekend, Congress capitulated to White House demands, and passed a FISA bill that unnecessarily expands the power of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Sestak, who was one of 183 representatives to vote against the bill, told us, “This is a time that I strongly believe, we should have stood up and said no. Attorney General Gonzales, we’re not going to let you decide the guidelines upon which you’ll listen in on Americans.” Sestak, a former highly ranked Naval officer, said he “learned that [intelligence officers will] press a little extra to get that information they need. And at times, constitutionally, they’ll go over the edge. That’s what Congress is to make sure, they don’t go over the edge.” Watch video of the interview here.

CIVIL RIGHTS — PENTAGON AND CONGRESS WARM UP TO REPEAL OF ‘DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL’: Top Pentagon officials and members of Congress are beginning to “soften their rhetoric” on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, which bans openly gay servicemembers. Since the policy was instituted in 1993, at least 11,000 servicemembers, hundreds of whom had key specialty skills such as training in Arabic, have been forced out of service. With our currently overstretched armed forces, the military could lure as many as 41,000 recruits if gays could serve openly. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman nominee, stated he was open to having Congress debate whether DADT was still appropriate. “I’d love to have Congress make its own decision with respect to that,” Mullen recently said. His remarks stand in contrast to those of former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell in 1993, who claimed the “presence of homosexuals in the force would be detrimental to good order.” Key conservatives in Congress such as Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and John Warner (R-VA) have also expressed interest in revisiting the issue. As of last week, five new lawmakers signed onto a House bill repealing the ban, bringing the total to 131 — including Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), Congress’ highest-ranking veteran. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has also recognized the contributions gay service members make to the military.

CONGRESS — LEAHY SETS NEW DEADLINE FOR SUBPOENAS OF WHITE HOUSE WIRETAPPING DOCUMENTS: Yesterday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, gave “the White House another 12 days to hand over documents it requested nearly six weeks ago regarding the administration’s legal justifications for its warrantless wiretapping program.” Leahy initially issued the subpoenas on June 27. After the White House missed the original due date of July 18, Leahy granted them an extension until Aug. 1, which they also missed. In a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, Leahy wrote, “despite my patience and flexibility, you have rejected every proposal, produced none of the responsive documents, provided no basis for any claim of privilege and no accompanying log of withheld documents.”

THINK FAST

President Bush is “scheduled to arrive in Kennebunkport today, staying through the weekend for a wedding.” The White House says it is not a “vacation,” but rather a “recess.” The Bushes will host French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Cecilia, on Saturday.

“A soft-spoken teacher [who] posted the words ‘Impeach Bush’ in a public garden” has been “cast as an outlaw.” The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports “the case is emerging as a free-speech issue of interest well beyond the boundaries of placid Portage County.”

The New York Times notes that President Bush’s unpopularity is taking a toll on his father. “It wears on his heart…and his soul,” longtime aide Ron Kaufman said. Some “close to the former president say it is clear that the father has been dissatisfied with the performance of some of his son’s aides, notably Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense.”

Bush “said yesterday that he is considering a fresh plan to cut tax rates for U.S. corporations to make them more competitive around the world.” With most of his legislative agenda in tatters and “his strategy in Iraq under bipartisan fire, Bush appears eager to return to familiar issues that animated the beginning of his presidency and might rally disaffected Republicans behind him again.”

The effort to reduce the size of Guantanamo “has been hampered by a laundry list of diplomatic, legal and political challenges, including the unwillingness of some countries to accept detainees and concerns about human rights abuses in others.” The Pentagon has suggested a goal to release up to 150 of the 360 men, “which would leave about 210 who they say could be eligible for war crimes trials or should be held indefinitely.”

“The space shuttle Endeavour roared into orbit Wednesday carrying teacher-astronaut Barbara R. Morgan, who was finally fulfilling the dream of Christa McAuliffe” and the rest of the Challenger crew that befell tragedy in 1986.

“Migrants from Mexico and Central America are finding it harder to get jobs and are living under a dramatically increased sense of siege,” according to a new study. The study “demonstrates for the first time with hard numbers the impact that the immigration debate in Washington is having on America’s streets.”

And finally: Fighting terror with a flashlight. “The Department of Homeland Security is developing a new weapon to fight the bad guys: a flashlight that makes a person throw up. … The bright light pulses, which vary in color and duration, induce disorientation, vertigo and nausea.”

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GOOD NEWS

A major Chicago early-childhood program’s “gains in terms of reduced social-welfare costs already have far exceeded the program’s $5,000 per student-year cost to the Chicago public school system,” according to a recent study, “the first to affirm the long-term value of a large public early-childhood enrichment program.”

STATE WATCH

TEXAS: Texas has 43 counties, the most of any state, that have a majority of minorities.

CALIFORNIA: Schools in California will now “be required to have someone available who is trained to assist diabetic children.”

WYOMING: New program will offer grants and other support intended to improve the quality of child care in the state.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Right-winger accuses an Iraq war veteran of “stabbing” his “fellow men and women in uniform” in the back.

THINK PROGRESS: REPORT: “The next few months” on Iraq that never end.

POLITICS EXTRA: In order to counter an upcoming appearance by right-wing columnist Ann Coulter, students at Xavier University are asking for $5 donations to student groups “who represent the values Coulter vilifies in her speeches and writings.”

ON POLITICS: In Iowa yesterday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) equated his sons’ campaigning for him to serving in the military.

DAILY GRILL

“We’re going to win. We will. We will never surrender.”
— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on the Iraq war, 4/18/07

VERSUS

“I’m not positive we can win this fight”
— McCain, 8/7/07