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War budget crowds out domestic spending

On cultural issues -- abortion, education, gay rights -- the U.S. Catholic bishops will more likely be found on Jesse Helms’ side of the aisle than Ted Kennedy’s. But on domestic budget issues -- including affordable housing, health care and welfare reform -- the American hierarchy lines up to the left.

The bishops and their liberal allies, for example, want more federal spending on affordable rental housing. Bush’s $2.13 trillion budget blueprint pushes homeownership, a welcome but not always feasible alternative for the poorest-of-the-poor, say housing advocates. “The budget proposal notably calls for ending chronic homelessness in 10 years,” says National Low Income Housing Coalition president Sheila Crowley, but “the rhetoric is not matched by dollars.”

On health care the Bush plan includes a tax credit for those not covered by their employers -- a free market solution not likely, according to its critics, to meet the bishops’ goal of “legislation that will provide affordable, accessible health care for all.” Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, says, “The individual tax credits proposed by the Bush administration are far too small to make health coverage affordable for low-income workers.”

On welfare reform, meanwhile, the administration uses budget gimmicks. The popular medical assistance program for people making the transition from welfare to work is funded for just one year, despite the widespread belief that Congress will have to, and wants to, fund the program in the “out years.”

The real story of the Bush spending plan, however, is the post-Sept. 11 military budget, whose 14 percent increase represents the largest single hike for the Pentagon since 1982. Domestic discretionary spending, by contrast, will rise by just 2 percent under the Bush plan.

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, February 15, 2002