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This time, we should be stingy

President Bush proposed a $2.57 trillion 2006 budget on Monday, reports Alan Fram of the Associated Press -- with just a touch of animosity:

WASHINGTON - President Bush proposed a $2.57 trillion budget Monday that would erase scores of programs and slice Medicaid, disabled housing and many more but still worsen federal deficits by $42 billion over the next five years.
Erase! Slice! Are we talking about a Schwarzenegger flick, or the U.S. budget? The obfuscation and fear-mongering here are almost impenetrable, but let's wade through some of it, shall we?
In one of the most austere presidential budgets in years — one that faces precarious prospects in Congress — Bush would give nine of the 15 Cabinet-level departments less money in 2006 than they are getting this year.
Let's say Bush rolls back the departments' funding to 2004 or 2003 levels, or, heaven forbid, even further. Is there any reason why they shouldn't be able to do the same thing they did in those past years for the same amount of money? Are they operating at 100% peak efficiency right now? If there's a legitimate reason why a funding increase is necessary, Fram doesn't share it with us. He just assumes that the departments should get more money every year, as if annual increases were some sort of entitlement.

They're not. Austere is good. Indeed, it's high time we see some genuine fiscal conservatism from this administration. Businesses are constantly looking for ways to cut costs, to pare dead wood, and to do more with less. Why shouldn't the government?
Overall, he would cut non-security domestic spending — excluding automatically paid benefits like Medicare — by nearly 1 percent next year. Bush said it was the first such reduction proposed by the White House since President Reagan's day.

Forty-eight education programs would be eliminated, including one for ridding drugs from schools.
Here, Fram falls back on the rhetorical trick of equating a "program" for doing something, with actually doing it. We haven't heard such chicanery since last year's presidential debates, when Kerry promised to cure each of America's ills with an appropriately-nuanced, but never fully explained, "plan".

I know the rest of the "War on Drugs" has been a smashing success, but color me skeptical that another such effort, this time focused on our schools, will do the trick. Do we need a federally-funded program for "ridding drugs from schools"? Can't local government and law enforcement handle that one?

And what are the other 47 programs? How important are they? Do we need all 47 of them? Fram is silent on the matter, hoping that merely throwing around large numbers will be enough to to bluster readers into submission.
In all, more than 150 government-wide programs would be eliminated or slashed deeply, including Amtrak subsidies, oil and gas research, and grants to communities hiring police officers.
Slash Amtrak subsidies? The man is mad, I tell you -- mad!
Bush would slow the growth of benefit programs by $137 billion over the next decade, nearly quadruple the savings he proposed a year ago with little success. Chief among the targets would be Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled, but farmers' payments, student loans and veterans medical services were also on the chopping block.
Ooh, the dreaded "chopping block"! It's a vivid metaphor, and Fram needs it to pass off slower growth rates as actual cuts. Bush is actually increasing the size of the benefit programs Fram mentions, but Fram counts it as another Scrooge-like move because Bush isn't increasing them quickly enough.
"It's a budget that focuses on results," Bush told reporters after meeting with his Cabinet. "The taxpayers of America don't want us spending our money into something that's not achieving results."

Yet largely because of Bush's plans for a defense buildup, this year's Iraq and Afghanistan war costs, and a handful of new tax cuts, the budget shows that deficits over the five years ending in 2010 would total nearly $1.4 trillion.
We're doing important work in Afghanistan and Iraq, and yes, it costs money. But despite continued spending on Iraq, Bush's proposed budget actually shrinks the 2006 deficit by $22 billion.

We'd be ill advised to cut corners on Iraq so we can fritter away more money on Amtrak subsidies. Bush's budget may not make the trains run on time, but it puts us on the right track.

I originally linked here, but the AP story at the same URL has been replaced by a similar story by a different reporter, Martin Crutsinger.

The new article seems a little more toned down. Interesting.

ABC News's pseudo-blog The Note takes a look at Bush's odds of getting his proposed budget through Congress, and calls attention to the fact that some of the areas Bush has earmarked for cuts -- farm subsidies, for example -- are traditional Republican favorites. With Social Security reform also on his agenda, it's starting to look like Bush is paying more attention to domestic policy, and he's prepared to shake things up just as much as he did overseas.


Anonymous said...

"Overall, he would cut non-security domestic spending — excluding automatically paid benefits like Medicare — by nearly 1 percent next year." Horrors! ONE WHOLE PERCENT? Storm the Capital!

Honestly. I think journos and politicos got used to the President giving money away like it was going out of style. This was his tack during his first term, and while I wasn't wild about it, I recogognized that the President needed to throw a little domestic spending around in order to get Congress to fall in line re: the war against terrorism. During the election, I believed that , should he be relected, Bush was unlikely to be so generous the second time around. The increase in Republican seats in both Houses has ensured that we are likely to see a return to a more frugal, less 'spendthrift' administration, one that we would have seen last term were it not for 9/11.

And I agree wholeheartedly that things like anti-drug programs in the schools should be handled on a state and local basis. Perhaps then they will be judged by the result, rather than the intent. 

Posted by Sharon

Anonymous said...

We'll see what happens. For many things I am pretty optimistic, but the government actually spending less isn't one of them. Pork is an issue with bi-partisan popularity.

It would be great to see some farm subsidies go away though. 

Posted by Dave Justus



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