Thursday, February 16, 2006

Interpreting the Bush Language -- What the Proposed Budget is Really Saying to Americans

Bush's Priorities: Found in Translation
from The Progress Report -- a publication of the American Progress Action Fund

In a speech last week to the Business and Industry Association for New Hampshire, President Bush explained his mindset when determining how to spend American taxpayer dollars. "Of course, you'd like to take a vacation every week, you know, some exotic place -- but you've got to set your priorities -- you can't do that. You want do this or do that, go to a fancy restaurant every night, but that's not setting priorities." Given the make-up of his budget, President Bush apparently thinks that funding priorities like education, veterans' health, and a strong defense is akin to buying a cruise to Tahiti. Below, we've translated some other Bush's other priorities, as evidenced in his proposed 2007 budget. (For the best coverage of the latest budget news, visit American Progress' new Budget Blog.)

BUSH: 'TOO MANY POOR KIDS GO TO COLLEGE': Federal programs to help students pay for higher education "take significant hits" in President Bush's budget: "The Perkins Loan program would be eliminated, and Pell grant funding for college students would drop by $4.6 billion."

BUSH: 'OIL COMPANIES AREN'T MAKING ENOUGH MONEY': "The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years," the New York Times reports today. "New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government."

BUSH: 'LEAVING NO CHILD BEHIND ISN'T WORTH THE COST': Department of Education spending on vital programs -- Upward Bound, GEAR UP, dropout prevention, etc. -- would fall by $2.1 billion, or 3.8 percent, under the president's budget. In all, Bush proposes to cut "42 Education Department programs to save $3.5 billion" while flat-funding two of education's most important programs, Title I and IDEA.

BUSH: 'NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE ENTERING OUR COUNTRY UNDETECTED': While some want to make border security the only answer to illegal immigration, it must be a significant part of the solution to the estimated 700,000 people who slip through our borders undetected each year. Despite congressional approval to hire 10,000 new border agents over five years, the administration only requested funding for 210 new hires for 2006. For 2007, the administration wants to hire 1,500 new border agents, a move in the right direction but still less than what was authorized by the December 2004 intelligence reform legislation.

BUSH: 'VETERANS SHOULD PAY MORE FOR HEALTH CARE': Veterans younger than 65 would pay up to two or three times more for the military's health care program "under a controversial set of fee increases" proposed in the latest budget. "About 3.1 million retirees and their families nationwide would be affected," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

BUSH: 'TRUST ME -- TERRORISTS WILL NEVER TRY TO HIDE EXPLOSIVES IN AIRLINE CARGO': The Department of Homeland Security once again fails to address air cargo security, the Achilles heel of aviation security. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) continues to devote a disproportionate share of its resources to passenger aviation security, in essence, fighting the last war. However, while adding significant amounts in new technology for air passenger checkpoints and in-line luggage screening, only 1 percent of TSA's 2007 $4.7 billion budget, or $45 million, is devoted to the air cargo that is carried in passenger aircraft. While passengers and their baggage are thoroughly scanned, the vast majority of air cargo is not, a vulnerability well known since September 11.

BUSH: 'I STILL WANT TO PRIVATIZE SOCIAL SECURITY': When President Bush first launched his campaign to privatize Social Security last year, just 39 percent of Americans approved of how he was handling the issue. A year later, that number has dropped to 35 percent. Apparently, Bush didn't get the message. "[T]his year, with no fanfare whatsoever, Bush stuck a big Social Security privatization plan in the federal budget proposal," Newsweek reports. Beginning in 2010, people could set up private accounts at a cost of $700 billion dollars over seven years, all funds diverted from Social Security tax revenues.

BUSH: 'DRINKING CLEAN WATER IS A PRIVILEGE': President Bush's budget would dramatically reduce community environment funding by 13 percent, with cuts proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency eight times larger than other agencies on average. A very short list of cuts: Clean Water State Revolving Fund (provides states with low-interest loans for infrastructure so they don't have to drink polluted water), Superfund Toxic Cleanup (funds clean-up of toxic waste sites), State and Tribal Air Grants (funds local community efforts to improve healthy air quality), Clean School Bus Initiative (completely eliminated). (More details here.)

BUSH: 'MY HIGHEST PRIORITY: TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHIEST': American Progress fellow Gene Sperling has spelled out Bush's budget narrative: "in the face of unpredictable, external, deficit-exploding forces beyond their control [like Katrina and Iraq], these brave budget warriors are successfully battling to return Washington to fiscal sanity." Actually, we could fund our legitimate priorities and reduce the deficit if not for Bush's tax cuts and his costly Medicare prescription drug benefit. If the tax cuts are made permanent, those two programs combined will cost more than $550 billion in 2011 and each year after.

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