America is at a critical juncture in its political history -- but it's a blind intersection that presidential campaign buses and media caravans ignore. More than the war in Iraq, the mortgage crisis, terrorism, or any other major policy challenge, the single issue that will define the Bush legacy for decades to come is the Republicans' budget strategy.
President Bush sent his Fiscal Year 2009 budget to Congress on Monday. In it he furthered every bad idea he's pushed since he came into office, ignoring evidence of the destruction his previous budgets have caused. One would think the damage was intentional ... unless one was blind. Of course it's intentional.
The massive deficits accumulated since 2001 are part of a deliberate Republican strategy to force changes in national priorities, a strategy written in large print in this deplorable budget.
The Bush budget would vastly enlarge his already-unconscionable deficit by $547 billion over the next five years. Contrary to what Bush would like us to believe, this is not due to excessive domestic spending and the congressional earmarks he loves to demonize. That's just smoke in our eyes. Neither earmarks nor domestic spending is the issue. The deficit hole will be massively enlarged with exactly the same tools he used to dig the current deficit -- tax cuts and gargantuan, unaccountable military spending.
Bush's tax cuts would cost the nation -- especially middle-income earners -- $900 billion over five years, and another $1.5 trillion in the following five years, for a total of $2.4 trillion in the next 10 years. Who benefits? The very rich. Households with incomes exceeding $450,000 a year would average more than $60,000 apiece in tax cuts. Households with incomes over $1 million would receive more than $150,000 a year in tax cuts!
Who else benefits from Bush's 2009 budget? Military contractors, of course. Bush's $515.4 billion for defense doesn't even include the additional billions per year he will need for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush likes to blame budget deficits on domestic programs to justify cutting domestic programs by $23 billion in next year's budget and an unbelievable $474 billion over five years. This means cuts in Head Start, Medicare, education, environmental quality and every other part of domestic spending. These cuts are deep and would ripple throughout the nation, as grants and other funding on which state and local governments depend are cut.
Let's be clear that the nation's deficit is caused by tax cuts, not by domestic spending, which has been squeezed to skeleton figures under Bush. His budget advisers have clearly told him that if he repeats even the craziest assertion over and over, he can manipulate the press and persuade the American public that a pig is a horse, his disastrous domestic spending cuts are justified, and his budget is responsible.
Following this principle, Bush says his budget proposal would create a balanced budget by 2012. This is true only if one accepts his pretense that no funding will be needed for Iraq and Afghanistan wars by 2010! It also assumes what is politically impossible -- that the alternative minimum tax will not again be corrected with relief measures.
But Bush's spinmeisters may be right. Despite the years of damage ahead that Bush's budget means for the nation, the story on Bush's Fiscal Year 2009 budget was hidden on page A20 of the New York Times Tuesday morning, the day after his budget was announced. The radio story I heard on it focused not on the trade-offs imposed by this irresponsible budget but on his favorite phony budgetary straw man: congressional earmarks.
The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are in Democratic hands and the presidential approval ratings as low as they can get. How appalling and ironic it will be if the nation ignores the real travesty of President Bush's 2009 budget, accepts blindly his fantasy budget story, and enshrines for years tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest and destruction of programs needed by the rest of us!
Are we awake?
Margaret Krome is a Madison resident who writes a column for the Capital Times every other week.
© 2008 Capital Newspapers