Monday, February 14, 2005

Even Arithmetic Is Partisan These Days

Fish, barrel, Bush, budget. I know you've heard it before but aren't you tired yet of the Bush administration saying 2 + 2 = 5, and the media quoting Democrats as saying no, it really doesn't, and then going back to quoting Republicans as saying the Democrats are just too partisan? Sheesh.

East Valley Tribune, Feb. 13, 2005

The latest Bush budget shows about the same “intelligence” as we got concerning Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. After going war, we learned they didn’t actually have any; they only pretended.

Similarly, Bush actually isn’t serious about restoring fiscal sanity; he’s only pretending. He’s not only spending money he doesn’t have, he’s now even threatening to default on the bonds in the Social Security trust fund.

Anybody who takes this budget seriously deserves having their Social Security benefits cut.

An “austere,” “serious” budget? No way. You can tell by what’s in it and what’s missing. Its fatuous efforts at cutting spending -- by largely symbolic cuts only in areas previously cut -- are textbook examples of going after weak clients and sparing weak claims by politically-powerful constituencies. The well-connected do fine; the cuts target the disabled, the sick, children, and the poor. It’s “compassionate conservatism” at its most flagrant.

The budget also includes “fake” cuts, which will never happen but make the numbers look better, like cutting farm subsidies. The last time this White House and GOP Congress considered farm subsidies, they wound up throwing more money at them. President Bush, who talked about cuts, was delighted to sign the increases.

The budget also includes fake revenues, like $1 billion from selling oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. The administration has flogged this puppy for four years and gotten nowhere, but they’re counting it as money in the bank.

The budget sort of includes the Medicare drug benefit. You may recall that many so-called conservatives refused to go along unless the cost was capped at $400 billion. So the Bush administration pretended that the cost was $400 billion, initially by suppressing more-honest estimates that pegged the cost at $534 billion. Imagine, that the Bush administration wasn’t giving us the straight fiscal scoop.

Now we find that the administration puts the cost at more like $750 billion -- by assuming some as-yet-unspecified future savings. However, even that number is bogus because the actual benefits don’t start for another year. The original 10-year estimate included three years before the program started and spent essentially zero. Once actual spending starts, of course the number jumps.

And minority budget analysts have looked at the budget, and peg the real cost at more like $1,200 billion over the next 10 years, and growing with each passing year.

What’s also isn’t in the budget is all military “operations and maintenance” funding. Not only does the budget contain zero money for the ongoing war in Iraq, but the administration already announced that they will stuff perfectly-anticipated O&M funding, and money needed for planned Army unit expansion, into “supplemental” budget requests. The budget requests $31.8 billion for Army O&M, which is about half of what the Army actually spent in FY2004 and a 33 percent cut from the $45.4 billion needed last year. The current budget is what the Pentagon spent 5 years ago, when we weren’t at war.

What’s also not in the budget is any money to fix the Alternative Minimum Tax, supposedly a presidential priority -- but a lower one, because it benefits middle class taxpayers, not just the rich. What’s also not in the budget is any money for the president’s Social Security proposals which, if not funded, will shorten the time at which point the trust fund needs to start redeeming bonds from 2018 to 2012. In other words, what Bush has proposed will make the funding imbalance in Social Security worse. Anybody who supports Bush’s privatization plan because they worry about Social Security’s solvency is just as unserious as the administration.

Bush’s budget doesn’t include spending that’s absolutely going to occur next year. It includes specious revenues (fee hikes on airline tickets!) and fictional cuts (drug cost savings!). It doesn’t include any costs for what Bush claims is his top priority for his second term, Social Security privatization. And even with all this budgetary flimflam, they can’t get the numbers right.

When reality hits, the administration will do what it always does; it’ll blame either Congress or Clinton. To the Bush administration and its enablers, that’s what “taking responsibility” means.

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