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Issue Date:  February 17, 2006

By this budget, we've lost our way

Federal budgets can be elusive documents. Think tanks geared up for the job can take days and even weeks to pore through the mountains of pages and endless categories to tease out the details of who gets more and who gets less. But what has become cliché during five years of the Bush administration is now glaringly apparent in the easily discerned outlines of its proposed 2007 budget: Cuts in vital programs that benefit the poor and middle class, continuing tax relief for the very wealthy and substantial increases for defense and Homeland Security.

If budgets are, as some contend and we would agree, moral documents, then this one suggests we have abandoned a basic sense of right and wrong and any notion that we are at our best when we strive to make life better for all, not just those who manage to accumulate wealth. As Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.) told The New York Times, “A budget is a statement of moral choices, and this budget makes the wrong choices.”

It does not, however, take an appeal to higher angels for even the nonexpert to perceive gaping flaws in this budget.

According to the widely respected Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the president’s proposal -- the combination of tax cuts and increases in defense and Homeland Security spending -- would increase deficits by $192 billion over the next five years. “Indeed, data contained in administration budget materials show that deficits would total $760 billion over the next five years without the policy changes the administration is proposing, but would total $952 billion with those policy changes.”

As a matter of perspective, recall that in 2001, the year Bush took office, the federal budget boasted a surplus of $125.3 billion, an amount that vanished in months to be replaced in 2002 by a deficit of $151 billion, a figure that has been steadily rising.

Even more devastating than the mounting burden for our children and grandchildren, is what the budget proposal will mean for children right now, especially the disadvantaged. Again, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, cuts in child care funding for children from low and moderate income families will total $1 billion over the next five years, and “at the proposed funding levels, the number of children receiving child care assistance in 2011 would drop by more than 400,000 as compared to the number who received assistance in 2005.” And that would occur as more stringent work requirements are placed on single mothers receiving welfare.

The cuts would also include significant drops in funding for Medicare and Medicaid, as well as a cut of $500 million, or 30 percent, in 2007 to the Social Services Block Grant program, which provides funding to states for social services for low-income and other vulnerable populations.

Sr. Simone Campbell, national coordinator for Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, describes the budget proposal as a sign of the “ultimate market impact on government.”

“This is not at all about giving a hand up to those at the bottom. It is not about care in any of the ways any religion thinks about it. They’ve made government a market available for selling and buying,” she said. “If you can pay for the cost of campaigns, access, vacations, you get the benefits of tax breaks or government contracts.”

This budget proposal realistically may have no chance to survive as written, but the fact that it was proposed is the sobering reality. The marketplace might respond to outside pressure, but those without the means to pay for access will feel small comfort.

National Catholic Reporter, February 17, 2006

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