Bush's last chance to make the rich richer

By Eric Ruder

LARDED WITH giveaways to the rich, money for ideological pet projects and lavish spending on the military, George W. Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year 2009, unveiled in early February, is a perfect capstone to his administration's relentless service to Corporate America and the super-rich.

At the same time, the budget would freeze or sharply cut most domestic spending programs and eliminate several important ones entirely, including food programs for poor children, career and technical education grants and public housing revitalization. Under the proposal, spending on domestic programs and entitlements would fall by $23 billion in 2009 and $474 billion in the next five years.

The $3.2 trillion budget projects a deficit of more than $400 billion next year, just shy of the $413 billion record that Bush set in 2004. Administration officials claim their proposal would balance the federal budget by 2012, a projection that no serious budget analyst thinks is plausible.

For one thing, the proposal sets aside just $70 billion to spend on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in future fiscal years. Considering that supplemental war spending in 2008 may reach $200 billion, this is obviously a pipedream.

The Bush budget also assumes economic growth this year will reach 2.7 percent, a full percentage point higher than projected by the Congressional Budget Office, which nets a fictional $340 billion in expected tax revenues.

Despite all the cuts planned in domestic spending, Bush's budget doesn't cut corners when it comes to military spending and tax cuts for the rich.

The Defense Department will enjoy a 7 percent increase in its budget, to $515 billion. Baseline military spending has jumped 30 percent during the Bush presidency.

The budget proposal also funds Bush's tax cuts for the rich beyond their 2011 expiration date--at a cost of $635 billion through 2013. Thanks to these tax cuts, households with annual incomes of more than $1 million would stand to benefit by $150,000 a year.

"This group makes up just 0.3 percent of the nation's households, yet its combined tax cuts would exceed the entire amount that the federal government spends on elementary and secondary education, as well as the entire amount that it devotes to medical care for the nation's veterans," according to an analysis of Bush's budget by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

By comparison, the bottom 20 percent of U.S. households would receive an average annual benefit of $45, and the second lowest 20 percent would get $470 each year.

Bush's plan would fund some of his pet projects, such as abstinence-only sex education programs and vouchers for elementary and secondary education, among others. But the cuts in antipoverty programs and health care for children and the elderly are sweeping in their reach.

For example, "funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would be cut $570 million or 22 percent, even before adjusting for changes in energy prices," according to the CBPP. "This would require cutting more than 1 million low-income families and elderly people off the program entirely, shrinking the average amount of assistance provided to poor families by 22 percent, or some combination of the two."

Child care assistance for low-income families would be frozen--for the seventh year in a row. "According to the administration's own data, 200,000 fewer children in low-income families would receive federal child care assistance in 2009 than in 2007, under the president's budget," says the CBPP.

Similarly, cuts to the Section 8 housing program, which provides assistance to low-income renters, will lead to at least 100,000 poor households losing the help they rely on to pay their rent.

The Bush budget even cuts $556 billion over 10 years from the Medicare program, which provides medical care for the nation's elderly. The reduction in federal funding for the program would drive health care providers to limit the number of Medicare patients they treat or drop out of the program altogether, making it even harder for older Americans to get adequate health care.

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GIVEN THAT Bush is a highly unpopular lame-duck president, Congress may decide to wait to pass any budget until Bush is out of office, making this proposal dead on arrival.

Democrats unanimously attacked the Bush budget, but their votes in Congress were critical to the passage of all the cornerstones of Bush's agenda--tax cuts for the rich, increased military spending, and supplemental spending bills to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the budget train wreck continues to pile up. Since Bush took office, the national debt has ballooned from $5.7 trillion to $9.7 trillion--an incredible feat considering that Bush inherited a budget surplus in 2001.

"Interest on the debt next year will total $260 billion, about what will be spent by the departments of Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Justice combined," according to the Washington Post.