April 12, 2004
Get out your checkbook, people. According to the National Priorities
Project (NPP), a think tank that examines the effect of federal spending
policies on state and local communities, each person in the US would
have to make out a check for $1,776 in order to balance Bush's budget.
With the redistribution of hundreds of billions of dollars to the rich
and corporations and enormous increases in an already bloated military
budget, Bush's spending agenda threatens to throw a greater number of
working people into economic harm's way. This even as the administration
strives to erase the social safety net that at one time would have
protected people forced out of work. Meanwhile, Bush's economic policy,
propelled by the far-right ideology of providing the greatest possible
profits to monopoly capital at any cost, has torn the employment rug
from under millions of workers and offshoring policies push global wages
into a race for the bottom.
Critics of Bush's policies have charged him with ignoring what is happening on the ground for ordinary people. Greg Specter of NPP remarked recently that "Bush's policies thus far haven't addressed the economic problems of the average American." Former Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling echoed this sentiment in his scathing critique of the effects of austerity policies aimed at social spending: "We can already see the sacrifices in program cuts this administration has imposed over the past three budgets and the significant new cuts proposed in coming years."
Sperling pointed to a variety of budget cuts called for by the Bush administration: education, job training, state healthcare funding and others. Over the last two budgets, Bush has frozen Pell grants to underprivileged college students, which with inflation has reduced their value by 3.1 percent. He eliminated the Youth Opportunity Grants, which provided job training funding for as many as 50,000 youth in economically troubled regions. Funding for No Child Left Behind has been notoriously short: $9 billion according to some estimates. Head Start programs have been desiccated. Some states have been forced to refuse healthcare through Medicaid and S-CHIP to tens of thousands of children because of cuts in federal block grant. Estimates of the Bush's 2005 budget proposal show as much as $28 billion in additional cuts from grants to states. These include $2.3 billion from housing assistance, over $1 billion from Title I education assistance, $137 million from community development programs, and about $532 million cut from the Clean Water Fund.
Where did the money go? Most notorious is the rich tax cuts implemented in 2002 and 2003. Bush tax cuts gave an average $127,661 per person in the top 1/10 of 1 percent of income tax filers, while the bottom 40 percent of earners received an average of only $123 over the last two years. That's not enough to pay even one month's electric bill or one week's groceries for a family of four. Citizens for Tax Justice indicates that if these tax cuts are made permanent, 39 percent of the revenue will go to the top 1 percent of the richest people in the country. Additionally, cuts in taxes on capital gains and estates benefits exclusively those who earn substantial incomes from property ownership and aren't even disguised as beneficial to working people. Meanwhile, corporations under Bush currently pay only 7.4 percent of the total revenue taken in by the federal government (compared to 11 percent under Clinton and nearly 30 percent under Truman).
Bush's tax policy came cheap but wasn't free. Craig Aaron, in a recent piece for In These Times, noted that 20 percent of the biggest campaign contributors to Bush's 2004 reelection bid come from the finance capital sector with direct interest in preserving and expanding his tax policies, raising so far over $12 million. This figure seems like a lot, but it really was only a tiny portion of the hundreds of billions handed over to the people represented by these donors. This way tax dollars could be put into the hands of wealthy donors who could then turn the money over to Bush -- quite a scheme. Simply put, Bush wrote a check in the name of the American taxpayer for a few hundred billion dollars and got a rebate for $12 million. On top of that $12 million, another several million was more indirectly funneled through lobbyists who work on behalf of Bush tax policy beneficiaries.
This situation is bad enough, but the Bush administration hasn't stopped with just tax cuts for the rich. Aaron's accounting of the financial support for the administration's tax policy doesn't even count the tens of millions more Bush took in from pharmaceuticals, hospital corporations, insurance companies, defense contractors, tobacco companies, oil, electric, coal and nuclear power companies for other quid pro quo. Of significant impact, as Bush spent most of his term beating the drums for war in Iraq, are the defense contractors. Wildly unnecessary military budgets have been the administration's highest priority since the inauguration. If Bush's proposal is passed, the government will spend $421 billion in 2005, or $1.2 billion a day on the military -- about 51 percent of all discretionary spending. (These numbers do not, however, include budget supplemental requests Bush will have to make for financing the continued war in Iraq and occupation of Afghanistan.)
At least $107 billion annually could be saved, says a report produced jointly by the Center for Defense Information and Foreign Policy in Focus. In this report titled "Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States" (March 2004), defense experts say that anachronistic cold war thinking drives much of the rationale for Bush defense spending proposals. Enormous expenditures on conventional defense weapons systems that don't work in current battle conditions are the cornerstone of his budgets. These suspicions are confirmed by the National Priorities Project which states bluntly that while Bush "justifies additional [military] spending as a matter of national security, the increases have little to do with fighting terrorism."
In fact, Bush proposals call for seven times as much spending on conventional weaponry than on security and counter-terror programs. The authors of this report say that $56 billion could be saved by eliminating such spending on programs like the F-22 fighter and the DDX destroyer, both of which will be obsolete or will duplicate existing technology when they get into production. Another $51 billion, the report claims, could be saved simply by realigning military forces and deployments more efficiently to meet the threats that Bush claims we face. Additionally, writes Tamar Gabelnick of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project, while international aid for basic education and the Global Fund for AIDS remain embarrassingly underfunded, Bush's 2005 budget proposes raising to $4.4 billion the amount given in aid to repressive regimes like Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Colombia and others to purchase US-made weapons.
Imagine the peace dividend if the US administration chose to build cooperative multilateral relationships, refused to follow its own tradition of military interventionism, sought negotiation rather than military or economic strong arm tactics to resolve disputes and sincerely and consistently recognized the right of national sovereignty and self-determination.
So why is the cold war mentality of arms buildups and fiscal waste still so prevalent in the Bush-controlled Pentagon? Companies that enjoy lucrative military related contracts from the much scandalized Halliburton to Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Alliant Techsystems and Northrup Grumman have strong ties to the Bush administration and are unashamed by the millions with which they have padded his campaign coffers. Boeing's defense division alone does about $25 billion of business annually in missile defense research, space exploration, weapons manufacture and intelligence gathering systems -- projects that have all received a major boost in the past three years. Now while these companies have worked systematically to forge bipartisan influence, they have a much stronger preference for the war hawk mentality of the current administration. Profits are at stake, and the aggressively militaristic Bush White House provides the greatest opportunity for the maximization of profits -- even if it has to lie and cover up to start a war. Nevertheless, the stranglehold of the ubiquitous military corporate lobbyist on even progressive members of Congress has to be broken.
So while Bush has proven himself adept at providing for the needs of the rich and the corporations that benefit from far right ideologically-driven policies, he shows his incompetence when addressing the needs of working people. Certainly, the economic recession and the jobs crisis are part and parcel of capitalism's regular and increasingly painful periods of boom and bust, but Bush's response to them has been nothing short of abominable. While Bush administration spokespersons try to downplay a 5.7 percent unemployment rate as "not that bad," they ignore some harsh realities. According to the jobs picture provided by the National Priorities Project last March, nearly 16 million jobs need to be created right now to cover the current unemployed population as well as to the keep up with the people who are entering the workforce. With 8.8 million unemployed and a "job gap" (difference between existing jobs and new workers entering the workforce) of about 7 million, this figure of 15.8 million doesn't cover the underemployed, which the AFL-CIO, using figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, estimates at about 6 million more people. In sum, about 22 million real jobs are needed to create full employment. Even further, a "new deal" style package of programs are needed to rebuild the economy, to create jobs and training and placement programs, rebuild the manufacturing sector, expand educational opportunities and provide universal healthcare.
What is the Bush solution? Hide the unemployment rate by cutting off unemployment insurance benefit extensions. Eliminate job training and creation programs in order to funnel more money to the very rich. Refuse to take any major initiative to expand healthcare and educational opportunities so as to insure a steady flow of tax dollars to those who fill his campaign war chest. The Bush administration is a mugger stalking the working people of this country, and he can't wait for another four years to finish the job.
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US Elections & Democracy on Swans
Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs, a monthly magazine of ideology, politics, and culture, and a member of UAW Local 1981 (national writers union) who has written for numerous publications.
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