President Bush presented a long wish list in his State of the Union address, full of stuff that's going to cost America lots of money.
Before explaining his spending plans, the president talked about fiscal discipline. He promised to eliminate the federal deficit in five years and "do so without raising taxes." But he left out a small detail, namely how he plans to accomplish that.
Bush did throw out one useful idea: stopping lawmakers from including pet projects, called "earmarks," into the federal budget without proper debate or oversight. Bush said earmarks total $18 billion annually.
But it's going to take a lot more than $18 billion to accomplish what the president proposes to do at home and in Iraq. And even the president and Congress are starting to realize they can't keep running the country by saddling our children and grandchildren with massive debt.
And that raises the question, is there a better way for America to get some of the good stuff Bush described -- such as energy independence and better health care for our people -- without winging it when it comes to the budget details?
That is, is there some way our country can be fiscally responsible and begin to fix some of the glaring problems we face?
Yes, we can. To do it right, Bush first needs to explain what he wants to do and how much it will cost. Then he needs to show, specifically, where the money's going to come from.
Here's an example of how this works. It's called the Common Sense Budget Act, HR 4898.
This legislation would do all of the following without raising taxes: provide health insurance to all 9 million U.S. kids who lack it; reduce our county's dependence on oil; renovate public schools; feed 6 million starving kids; offer job training to a quarter-million laid-off workers; boost funding for medical research and Homeland Security; and even reduce the deficit by $5 billion.
The legislation targets wasteful spending in the federal budget that would pay for this, roughly $60 billion.
Most of the savings comes from trimming obsolete Cold War weapons in the Pentagon budget, weapons that were designed to fight the Soviets but are still being produced because of lobbying by defense contractors and their supporters in Congress and the White House.
President Reagan's assistant secretary of defense, Lawrence Korb, and other defense analysts on both sides of the aisle agree there's at least $60 billion to be saved by trimming waste from the Pentagon budget -- without putting our troops at risk or diminishing our ability to fight terrorists at all.
Bush probably wouldn't agree with all the spending priorities in the Common Sense Budget Act.
Bush says he needs money to fight the Iraq war and re-tool the Army.
Whatever his priorities, he can put forth a responsible plan.
It's time for Bush to tell us how much his proposals will cost and where he's going to get the money.
Maybe he knows other parts of the federal budget that could be trimmed. Maybe he's planning on axing some of the same Cold War weapons that Korb and others believe can go.
In any case, the president should show us the money.
Ben Cohen is co-founder of Ben & Jerry's and president of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.
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