A Budget of Gimmicks, False Promises, and Unrealistic Expectations

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Common Dreams

A Budget of Gimmicks, False Promises, and Unrealistic Expectations

US Senate Floor Remarks -- February 27, 2004

Senator Byrd delivered the following remarks as the Senate Budget Committee prepares to debate and vote on the federal budget for Fiscal Year 2005. The Budget Committee is expected to work on that budget beginning on Wednesday, March 3, 2004.

With the release of the President's budget for the Fiscal Year 2005, and the upcoming markup of the Fiscal Year 2005 budget resolution, it's now clear that the promises made by this Administration during the 2000 election have not been kept.

Contrary to the promise made four years ago to ensure the Social Security benefits promised to our nation's workers, our retirement and disability system has become more vulnerable.

Contrary to the promise made four years ago to make health care more affordable, drug prices continue to rise and health insurance remains unobtainable for too many Americans.

Contrary to the promises made four years ago to protect our nation's vital industries, this Administration's tax and trade policies have been an unmitigated disaster, with an alarming number of jobs being lost overseas.

Contrary to its assurances that it could be trusted to act as a prudent and responsible manager of our nation's fiscal policies, the Bush Administration has demonstrated neither prudence nor fiscal responsibility.

In his February 2001 address to a Joint Session of Congress, the President promised to pay down $2 trillion in debt during the next 10 years. He said that's "more debt repaid more quickly than has ever been repaid by any nation at any time in history." He has not kept that promise. Since the President submitted his Fiscal Year 2002 budget, our gross national debt has increased from $5.6 trillion to $7 trillion, and deficits have risen to $521 billion in the Fiscal Year 2004.

With deficit projections mounting, the cries of alarm are growing steadily louder.

The IMF, an international organization normally concerned with the debt problems of third-world nations, has issued an alarming critique of the United States, pleading with the Bush Administration to rein in its massive budget and trade deficits. Similar warnings have emanated from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and from the U.S. Comptroller General David Walker. Even the Administration's own political allies, ranging from the conservative Heritage Foundation to private-sector economists who endorsed the President's tax cuts, have pleaded with this Administration to get its fiscal act together.

Yet these warnings fall on deaf ears in this Administration. After spending $1.7 trillion to finance three enormous tax cuts in the last three years, the President's budget proposes an additional $1.24 trillion for more tax cuts.

President Bush's assertion that his budget will cut the deficit in half by 2009 is one more in a litany of promises that will go unfulfilled. The Bush Administration's own budget documents show that if none of its proposals were enacted into law, the deficit would still be cut in half. The President's budget actually makes the deficit worse in 2009 than if the Congress took no action at all.

For the Fiscal Years 2001 - 2010, this Administration's policies have transformed a ten-year, $5.6 trillion surplus into a $4 trillion deficit. And it just keeps getting worse. The President's budget includes record deficit projections that will push our national debt to extreme limits never before seen in our nation's history.

President Bush's budget is a wake up call for working America. Under the guise of inviting middle-class workers to sit at the table and share in the tax cuts, this Administration has run up a tab that won't be paid for by thos> e with the golden parachutes. It will be the working man who gets stuck with the bill.

Instead of ensuring the Social Security benefits promised to workers, the President's budget would spend the entire Social Security surplus over the next five years - all $1.1 trillion of it - to pay for the Administration's tax cuts for the affluent and corporate elite. Not one dime would be allocated to save Social Security.

But even the enormous surpluses in the Social Security accounts can't cover the colossal cost of the Administration's tax cuts. President Bush's budget would also cut the funding for those federal programs that most benefit working families - federal student aid, unemployment and job training programs, health care initiatives for veterans and the poor and elderly - by a whopping $50 billion to pay for the Administration's tax cuts.

And still it is not enough. After draconian spending cuts and the loss of the entire Social Security surplus, the President's budget proposes to borrow an additional $1.4 trillion - much of it from countries like China and entities like OPEC - to pay for its tax cuts.

When you look at the promises versus the performance of this Administration, and the massive increases in the national debt necessary to finance their ill-conceived fiscal policies, our nation will be left with a "Bush Debt Gap" of $4.5 trillion.

The Administration is forcing working-class Americans not only to shoulder a massive debt burden, but also to give up those federal programs and services from which they most benefit.

The President's tax cuts are squeezing state revenues forcing increases in tuition rates. The cost of attendance at a four-year public college/university has gone up 26 percent since Mr. Bush became President, from an average of $8,418 in 2000 to $10,636 in 2003. Interest rates on student loans will increase, while Pell Grant monies and federal student aid programs are rolled back.

Drug prices will continue to increase - and veterans and seniors will continue to see their savings depleted - while cuts are made in those programs that help to provide them with basic health care.

Worker's pensions will remain underfunded and vulnerable, while this Administration stands passively mute.

Social Security's financing problems will continue to worsen, as money that should be saved to ensure the benefits promised to workers is wasted on an ideological fiscal policy that advocates tax cuts above all else.

The financial perils underlying the Social Security program were brought to light this week when Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan forced the President to confront the fact that his Administration has been hiding from for three years now: if we continue on the fiscal course set by this Administration, we will lose the only opportunity we have left to save Social Security.

The Congress has a responsibility to better educate the public about their Social Security system. The panic in the voices of my constituents as they called my office yesterday made it clear that more must be done to keep the public informed.

What's regrettable is that the real problems confronting future Social Security retirees have only recently surfaced in the Presidential debates. What's unforgivable, however, is that if it were not for Chairman Greenspan's comments, this Administration may not have even raised it as an issue this year. The President's evasive remarks have been to assure the American people that he will not cut the benefits of retirees or those near retirement. But what does that mean for 59-year olds or 60-year olds? Will the President try to cut their Social Security benefits or not? To cut Social Security benefits, without first engaging the public about its intentions, should tell us a great deal about the fiscal priorities and methods of this Administration.

In the face of this dismal reality, the Administration does not offer solutions, just excuses. It can only argue that their budgetary decisions are not their fault. The recession and out-of-control spending is to blame for massive deficits. Corporate accounting scandals are to blame for weak pension funds. The September 11 terrorists are to blame for the shoddy economy.

All of those arguments are belied by the facts.

Our investments in education, health care, transportation and other domestic discretionary programs are not the source of this Administration's deficit problems. Domestic discretionary comprises only 9 percent of the increase in spending over the last three years, and it represents only 17 percent of all federal spending. President Bush's budget doesn't even look at mandatory expenditures for savings, even though they comprise two-thirds of the federal budget. While the President's proposed spending cuts would significantly undermine our education and health care investments, it would barely make a dent in the Administration's deficit projections.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is plagued with accounting problems so severe that the Secretary of Defense can't account for billions of taxpayers dollars. The General Accounting Office estimates that the very earliest that the Defense Department could possibly pass an audit would be 2007, and that is optimistic. The Administration doesn't even know how much time and how much money it will take to fix the accounting problems.

It's absurd that the Administration is proposing to cut vital domestic investments while billions and billions of dollars are lost every year in the Pentagon's broken accounting system.

The Administration's deficits have exploded in large measure because revenues as a percentage of our gross domestic product have declined to their lowest levels since 1950. According to the House Budget Committee, the three Bush tax cuts have increased the deficit by nearly $2.6 trillion from 2001 to 2013.

The notion that the Administration's deficits were created by a poor economy and increased spending is pure fantasy.

It's made all the worse by this Administration's efforts to hide these facts from the public. The Administration is touting the tough choices it is making to cut the deficit in half over five years. Yet, its budget is full of "magic asterisks" that assume an initiative will be offset, such as a $65 billion health care tax credit, but provides no information on where that savings will come from.

Contrary to the Bush Administration's past budgets with surplus projections extending out ten years to justify their tax cuts, this year, President Bush proposed a five-year budget. It hides from the public the alarming long-term deficits projected by the Congressional Budget Office. It hides the real cost of the Administration's proposals, such as the $1.1 trillion - trillion -- cost of extending the Bush tax cuts. Further, President Bush's budget includes no additional funds for Iraq, even though the Administration reportedly will submit another supplemental for Iraq after the November elections.

Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, is where the Bush budget is the most deceptive.

To date, contrary to the modern tradition of an Administration funding large scale, ongoing wars, at least in part, through the regular appropriations process, the Bush Administration has refused to request funds for the war in Iraq in its annual budget. The Administration waits until funds for the troops are almost exhausted before requesting additional funds through a Supplemental.

The Bush Administration's purpose is clear - to limit debate, to limit discussion, to limit having to explain to the American people how much this war will cost and how many lives will be lost before it is over.

This year, however, the political posturing has gotten worse. Not only did the President not include any funds in its budget for the ongoing operations in Iraq, the Administration has announced that no supplemental will be sent to the Congress until after - after - the November elections, depriving the American voters of any opportunity to judge the president based on his promises about the costs of a war in Iraq.

This is a budget of gimmicks, false promises, and unrealistic expectations. It's a budget of misdirection, canards, speciousness, spuriousness, sophistry, equivocation, fallacies, prevarications, and flat out fantasy. Worse, under the guise of reining in budget deficits, this Administration is continuing its assault on the values of the working class.

This is an Administration of corporate CEOs and Texas oil men. The corporate elite of this Administration did not grow up wondering if their parents could afford to send them to college. Their parents did not have to choose between paying for groceries and paying for health care. They do not stay up late at night worrying about whether they will lose their pension benefits, or whether Social Security will be enough to provide for their retirement.

When the Administration proposes to cut these programs or fails to provide adequate resources for them, it's because it has no personal understanding of the plight of America's workers and how much the President's budget cuts affect middle-class America.

Only a President who never had to apply for unemployment benefits would oppose extending them when so many workers are without a job. Only a President who never needed overtime pay would advocate taking it away from those workers who rely on it to make ends meet. Only a President who never needed federal aid to attend college would advocate cutting it back for those students who cannot attend college without it.

When this Administration leaves office, its legacy will be an enormous debt burden that will weigh heavily on the middle-class. In the process, it will have severely weakened their safety net, and have left little means for fixing it.

But it won't matter to this president at that point. He'll move back to Texas knowing that his pension and health care benefits are secure, and that corporate CEOs and Texas oil men are wealthier and more comfortable than ever before. He'll never have to rely on the safety net that his Administration has worked so hard to dismantle.

Robert C. Byrd

Robert Carlyle Byrd was a United States Senator from West Virginia. A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd served as a U.S. Representative from 1953 until 1959 and as a U.S. Senator from 1959 to 2010. Senator Byrd died on June 28, 2010.

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