Bush’s Class War Budget

A s A high school student in Pawtucket, R.I., Monica Teixeira de Susa was told not to bother applying to Brown University–because Brown didn’t admit students from working-class Shea High School. Thanks to a federal program called Upward Bound, which helps low-income students get into college, Monica went to Brown, and later to law school.

But if George W. Bush gets his way, there won’t be any other students like Monica. Because there won’t be any more Upward Bound.

The Bush administration’s 2006 budget proposal eliminates the program–which got $312 million in the 2005 budget, not much more than the Pentagon spends on a single F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.

Upward Bound is just one of 48 Education Department programs that will be zeroed out under Bush’s budget. The administration claims that it’s eliminating “redundancies” in the Education Department in order to focus resources on Bush’s No Child Left Behind program for school “reform.” But the new budget leaves No Child Left Behind funding almost $10 billion short of what Congress authorized in 2001.

Overall, federal education spending would decrease by 14 percent over five years. Meanwhile, the Bush budget proposes to make the two huge tax cuts passed during his first term permanent–and even adds on a few other tax breaks for the super-rich.

“It’s an outrage that anyone in today’s world can believe that the proposals being made are morally, socially and educationally right,” Community College of Rhode Island President Thomas Sepe told a press conference. “They are not.”


* * *

THE BIG domestic-policy topic in Washington these days is Bush’s Social Security privatization plan–which is plummeting in popularity, according to opinion polls, and facing opposition even from fellow Republicans. But beneath the radar, Congress is beginning to debate a White House budget proposal that cuts more from domestic government spending than any since the Reagan years, according to the Oakland Institute’s Anuradha Mittal.

“It’s a budget that sets priorities,” Bush said after the details were released. It isn’t hard to see what those priorities are.

According to the New York Times, programs that help the poor account for close to half of the cuts in the Bush budget. “It may sound shrill to describe President Bush as someone who takes food from the mouths of babes and gives the proceeds to his millionaire friends,” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “Yet his latest budget proposal is top-down class warfare in action.”

The budget calls for cutting $214 billion over five years from “domestic discretionary” spending programs–which means everything except for the military, homeland security and entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. That’s a 16 percent reduction overall–and, of course, numerous programs have it even worse.

For example, the Bush budget proposes to end Community Services Block Grants, started more than 35 years ago as part of the 1960s “War on Poverty.” Money from these grants pays for community agencies to help low-income people with housing, nutrition, education and employment services. Now, Bush wants the block grants folded together with 17 others into a single program, overseen not by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the Commerce Department–and funded at a fraction of the current level.

To Geraldine Lehman, that would “feel like the end of the world.” The 77-year-old resident of southern Florida has had multiple heart attacks and relies on a home aide paid for by the country government form a Community Service Block Grant. “If they take that away from me,” she told the Palm Beach Post, “I don’t know what I would do.”

Cutbacks come in nearly every corner of the budget–entitlement programs like food stamps included. The White House wants stricter eligibility rules for food stamps that would cut off an estimated 300,000 people.

The proposal also slashes spending on the environment and natural resource conservation by more than 10 percent next year alone–including cuts in enforcement programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In his State of the Union address, Bush announced a $150 million program to reduce gang membership–with his wife, Laura, in charge. But his budget released a few days later cut almost three times as much from education, after-school and family-support programs that help youth stay away from gangs, according to the Washington-based group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

Did any government programs escape the budget ax? The Pentagon, for one. Military spending would rise by 4.8 percent ahead of inflation under the Bush budget–a $19.2 billion bump that by itself is more than the federal government spends on the food stamp program. Bush’s 2006 Pentagon budget request represents a 41 percent increase in military spending since 2001.

And even while they slash away at spending, the Bush team is trying to get away with more tax cuts.

According to the administration’s own figures, as a percentage of the overall economy, federal revenues from taxes will be the lowest this year in more than half a century. Yet the White House wants to phase out two more little-known tax provisions–originally put in place under George Bush Sr.–that limit deductions and exemptions for high-income households. More than half of the benefits from this backdoor tax break would go to millionaires–and 97 percent would go to households with annual incomes over $200,000. The price tag just for this small-fry giveaway to the already obscenely rich: as much as $500 billion over 10 years.


* * *

DESPITE THE scale of the budget cuts, they’re the tip of the iceberg–and the Bush administration pulled a fast one to hide just how hard they’ll hit in the years to come.

Breaking with a longstanding practice, the White House only identified specific cuts for next year. For 2007 to 2010–when more than 90 percent of the five-year budget’s back-loaded reductions take place–the administration provided only spending caps for broad categories, which lump together, for example, education, training and social services.

“Cuts of this magnitude would be bitterly contested if Congress had to justify them to the people who care about each of these programs,” wrote Washington Post columnist David Broder. “But by asking instead for a vote this year on enforceable five-year caps on these broad categories of spending, the administration hopes to accomplish its goals without arousing the same degree of controversy.”

The White House’s justification for cutting spending so drastically is the need to “tame” the deficit–which will again hit a new record this year. But to make the claim that it will cut the deficit in half, the administration left out the cost of the occupation of Iraq–now running at more than $5 billion a month. Nor does the budget proposal include the cost of Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security–which would quickly run into the trillions of dollars.

This is one of the dirty secrets of the Bush administration: It considers a massive government deficit to be a useful tool. Not only have massive tax cuts lined the pockets of the super-rich, but they’ve caused a budget “train wreck” that provides the excuse to “starve the beast.”

As a Wall Street Journal editorial put it, “[E]very editorial writer and politician in America will spend the next week denouncing federal red ink. But that’s all the more reason for someone to point out that the much-loathed budget ‘deficit’ is the main, and perhaps the only, reason we may finally get some federal spending restraint.”

To the Bush administration and its cheerleaders at the Wall Street Journal, “restraint” means making workers pay. We have to expose the Bush budget for what it really is–another offensive in a one-sided class war.


Millionaire’s bankruptcy loophole

THE POLITICIANS of both parties are getting ready to pay back the big bankers and credit card companies for all those campaign contributions.

After several failed attempts in recent years, Congress was on the verge of approving legislation to “reform” bankruptcy laws. Translation: Make it impossible for working people to escape from crippling debts through Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the bill’s chief sponsor, said the legislation would stop people who “use bankruptcy” to “get out of paying their debt scot-free, while honest Americans who play by the rules have to foot the bill.” The reality of bankruptcy is very different, as a Harvard University study shows. In the two years before filing, 19 percent of families went without food, 40 percent had their phone service shut off, and 53 percent went without important medical care, according to the study.

Meanwhile, Grassley’s legislation keeps open what legal experts call the “millionaire’s loophole” in the bankruptcy system. By transferring assets into protected trusts, the super-rich will still be able to shield their wealth from creditors–while working people are left to the mercies of the credit card industry.

ALAN MAASS is the editor of Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: alanmaass@sbcglobal.net


ALAN MAASS is the editor of the Socialist Worker and author of The Case for Socialism. He can be reached at: alanmaass@sbcglobal.net