Saturday, March 19, 2005

Deficit Games

Forward notices some Republican sleight-of-hand:
Congress just started work on the 2006 federal budget, and the sound you hear coming from Washington is the other shoe dropping.

The first shoe was the large tax cuts Congress and President Bush enacted in 2001 and 2003, which helped push federal revenues down to their lowest level since the 1950s when measured as a share of the economy. The second shoe is the large cuts in domestic programs Congress is considering making this year — cuts potentially broad and deep enough to weaken public education, damage the environment, and cause hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans to lose much-needed help paying for necessities like housing and child care.

The link between the two? The tax cuts were a prime cause of the large budget deficits we face today, yet the Bush administration and congressional leaders are using those deficits to justify significant cuts in spending, even as they call for still more tax cuts. And because the tax cuts primarily benefit high-income households, while the proposed spending cuts would primarily harm low- and middle-income households, the net effect of using spending cuts to pay for the tax cuts would be to transfer substantial resources from the rest of the country to the people with the highest incomes.


E.J. Dionne sees the same dynamic:
Here's a little-known fact symptomatic of everything wrong with the way Congress has dealt with our nation's finances over the past four years. Writers of both the House and Senate budget resolutions were careful to make sure that Congress would not consider budget cuts and tax cuts at the same time.

The House budget resolution requires the Ways and Means Committee to report tax-cut legislation by June 24. But bills that will enforce cuts in entitlement programs aren't called for until Sept. 16. The Senate reverses the order: spending cuts by June 6, tax cuts on Sept. 7.

Why is this important? Because there are a couple of things our legislators and our president do not want citizens to do: (1) link the big deficits with the big tax cuts, (2) notice that if the tax cuts weren't so big, cuts in domestic spending wouldn't have to be so big. The nice separation of those dates is just the ticket for obscuring the obvious.


And just in case you think this doesn't make any difference, Forward calculates some of the human costs of the 2006 budget:
[W]e estimate that by 2010:

• 670,000 fewer low-income women, infants and young children will receive supplemental nutrition assistance;

• 370,000 fewer low-income families, elderly people and people with disabilities will receive vouchers that help them rent modest apartments;

• 360,000 fewer low-income families, elderly individuals and other low-income households will receive help paying their heating bills;

• 300,000 fewer children in low-income working families will receive child care assistance;

• 118,000 fewer low-income children will be served by the Head Start childhood development program;

• K-12 education funding will be cut by 12% below its current level adjusted for inflation;

• funding to support state and local efforts to ensure clean drinking water, reduce air pollution and upgrade sewage treatment facilities will be cut by more than a quarter;

• funding for community and economic development programs, primarily in distressed and disadvantaged communities, will be cut by more than a third.


They also explain how it is they come to be making such estimates, and what they didn't find in the numbers:
In a break with tradition, the Bush administration didn't show how its proposed cuts to the parts of the budget that include discretionary programs would affect individual programs after 2006. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated, on the basis of administration data and the administration's funding priorities for 2006, how much these programs would be cut. We then estimated how many people would be affected if the cuts were implemented by reducing the number of beneficiaries rather than the size of benefits.

...

What's missing from all three documents is the concept of shared sacrifice, which was the central ingredient of the successful deficit-reduction efforts of the early 1990s. Both in 1990 and in 1993, Congress adopted plans that reduced the deficit through a combination of higher revenues and lower spending.

That approach could work again this year. First, though, the Bush administration and congressional leaders will have to acknowledge that unaffordable tax cuts have helped create our budgetary mess, and that new revenues need to be part of the solution.


I'd like to believe they can't get away with this forever. Hope springs eternal.

On a semi-related note, religious progressives seem to be getting it:
"The religious left has tended to operate on an ad-hoc basis, depending on the hot issue of the day," said Green. "But during the 2004 election, there was clearly the sentiment that they get organized and do something on a permanent basis."

That was what Dr. Bob Edgar, secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, was alluding to last week in leading a rally on the west lawn of the Capitol protesting Bush's budget as "morally misguided" in its treatment of poor Americans.

At one point, Edgar had the several hundred protesters turn to face the Washington Monument off in the distance. In the future, he said, "I hope we can fill all that space."

Although there have long been liberal religious leaders in American politics, "they just forgot how to organize for politics," said Craig Crawford, a political analyst for MSNBC and CBS. "Religious liberals need to look back to their history . . . and relearn how to make Jesus a Democrat."


Now if we could only get that few hundred up to a few thousand or a few hundred thousand...

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