Bust This Budget

Nearly lost amidst Super Tuesday hoopla is The Final Bush Budget, released yesterday. Like most Bush budgets, this one is a work of alternative fiction. But if the reviews are any indication, the Bushies have outdone themselves this year.

The New York Times:

President Bush’s 2009 budget is a grim guided tour through his misplaced priorities, failed fiscal policies and the disastrous legacy that he will leave for the next president. And even that requires you to accept the White House’s optimistic accounting, which seven years of experience tells us would be foolish in the extreme. …

… The president claimed on Monday that his plan would put the country on the path to balancing the budget by 2012. That is nonsense. His own proposal projects a $410 billion deficit for 2008 and a $407 billion deficit next year. Even more disingenuous, Mr. Bush’s projection for a balanced budget in 2012 assumes only partial funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for 2009, and no such spending — zero — starting in 2010.

It also assumes that there will be no long-running relief from the alternative minimum tax — which would be ruinous for the middle class — and that there will be deep cuts in Medicare and other health care spending that have proved to be politically impossible to enact.

Here are some highlights, courtesy of Senate Democrats:

  • The Bush Budget Would Cut Funding to Help Poor Families Heat Their Homes.
  • The Bush Budget Would Slash Job Training Funding.
  • The Bush Budget Would Cut Medicare and Medicaid by Almost $200 Billion Over Five Years.
  • The Bush Budget Would Cut Funding for Teaching Hospitals and Freeze Funding for Medical Research.
  • The Bush Budget Would Eliminate the Perkins Loan Program and Recall $1.1 Billion in Student Loans.
  • The Bush Budget Would Terminate Grants for College Students with Exceptional Financial Need.
  • The Bush Budget Would Slash Local Law Enforcement Programs.
  • The Bush Budget Would Cut Homeland Security Grants to State and Local Governments by $1 Billion.
  • Bushies also want the Defense Department to jack up the co-pays veterans owe for medical care, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still off-budget.

    However, what’s on budget is stunning. The Boston Globe:

    Defense spending would approach $515.4 billion, the highest amount, adjusted for inflation, since World War II. That’s still a smaller percentage of the gross domestic product than was the case in the 1950s and 1960s, but it’s an extraordinary amount when the chief threat isn’t the Red Army but terrorists wielding improvised explosive devices and suicide vests. And the budget understates the amount needed to sustain US forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush, when he leaves office, will be the first president to leave two unfinished wars to his successor.

    Ah, but Fred Kaplan says,

    It’s time for our annual game: How much is really in the U.S. military budget?

    As usual, it’s about $200 billion more than most news stories are reporting. For the proposed fiscal year 2009 budget, which President Bush released today, the real size is not, as many news stories have reported, $515.4 billion—itself a staggering sum—but, rather, $713.1 billion.

    Before deconstructing this budget, let us consider just how massive it is. Even the smaller figure of $515.4 billion—which does not include money for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—is roughly equal to the total military budgets of all the rest of the world’s nations combined. It is (adjusting for inflation) larger than any U.S. military budget since World War II.

    But this is simply the Pentagon’s share of the military budget (again, that part of it not related to war costs). Since most reporters writing about this are Pentagon reporters, that’s the part of the budget that they consider their turf.

    Kaplan writes that when you add in “defense-related activities” — which does not include Homeland Security, mind you — and the various off-budget war supplements either on the table or anticipated; and stuff like weapons systems, ships, missile defense, and military technology research, which for some reason are not in the Pentagon budget, then you’re talking about real money.

    Isaiah J. Poole writes at Campaign for America’s Future —

    Critics say that the real story is that military spending as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product — about 4 percent — is actually at historic lows. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen is making the 4 percent figure a threshold. “I really do believe this 4 percent floor is important,” Admiral Mullen is quoted by The New York Times as saying. “It’s really important, given the world we’re living in, given the threats that we see out there, the risks that are, in fact, global, not just in the Middle East.”

    But why 4 percent, when the world average is 2 percent, according to the CIA Factbook, and the 27 countries that spend more than 4 percent of their GDP on defense, aside from China at 4.3 percent, are either small countries, heavy oil exporters or, as in the case of Oman and Qatar, both?

    As it turns out, the 4 percent figure was pulled out of the posterior of The Heritage Foundation, which doesn’t explain why 4 percent is the magic number, either. (Perhaps it’s only because “Four Percent for Freedom,” like so much conservative nonsense, nonetheless makes for a crisp, alliterative bumper sticker.) What The Heritage Foundation does say in one of its “Four Percent for Freedom” papers, though, is that “projected growth in entitlement expenditures will jeopardize the nation’s ability to wage war over the long term. This harsh fact makes entitlement reform a national security issue.” [emphasis added]

    Get that? The wingnuts fear that if we actually invest money in our domestic needs, it will hamper our ability to wage war.

    The most pathetic part of this pathetic mess is not just that President Frat Boy has wrecked the nation’s finances. He’s also setting up a huge fight over taxes and priorities for his successor. Like the spoiled brat he is, he expects others to clean up his messes. I don’t expect to live long enough to see this mess cleaned up.