Tuesday, February 8


Bush's cynical budget:

President Bush's latest deficit-steeped budget, for all its tough talk of reining in spending, stands out as a monument to misplaced political capital.
Over all, the budget is a sham that takes big cuts out of politically vulnerable programs that have very little to do with the explosion of the deficit in Mr. Bush's tenure.

Programs benefiting low-income citizens, like community development and health care, are destined to bear close to half of the cuts even though they accounted for less than 10 percent of the spending increases during the first Bush term. Some of the cruelest cuts would affect hundreds of thousands of working poor people who rely on child-care assistance and food stamps.

The deficit problem is a reflection of lowered revenue more than high spending - a fact that the president and the Republicans in Congress are determined to ignore. To the contrary, their proposal is to lock the once-"temporary" Bush tax cuts into stone. Meanwhile, expensive outlays will continue for the Pentagon, homeland security and mandated costs like Medicare. With such a lopsided perspective, vital environmental, education and housing programs cannot help but be disproportionately trimmed.

As a political tract, the budget neatly omits any accounting for next year's costs of the Iraq war, lately running at more than $5 billion a month. Nor do the budget figures for later years mention the hundreds of billions in borrowing that would be required to start up President Bush's plan to allow Social Security taxes to be directed into private investments.

Washington hands expect many, if not most, of the president's proposed cuts to be reinstated by Congress. And given Mr. Bush's preoccupation with Social Security, it's hard to imagine him wasting much effort on a leaner Pentagon budget or saner agricultural subsidies. In the end, only the programs with the least political clout - generally aimed at helping the weakest groups in the country - will be pared down or eliminated. That might give some politicians a sense of political cover, but it would be a bad choice and would hardly solve the problem.


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