In presenting his Administration’s proposed budget, President Bush has shown the real face of his “compassionate conservatism” – guns before butter. Mr. Bush and his allies in both parties are prepared to gut a whole range of programs, from Medicaid health services to the nation’s only passenger rail service, AMTRAK. As these programs which serve the least paid and most over-worked section of working people in the “First World” are cut, the hawks in the Pentagon want even more of Congress’ largess for new ships and missiles and the bloody occupation of Iraq. While defense spending will reach yet another new record, Bush’s massive tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent will in effect become permanent while the level of the payroll tax paid by workers remains at its highest rate. President Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” would ring truer if it were called “compassionate imperialism” instead.
The Administration’s proposed budget would create an estimated annual deficit of $229 billion by 2010, without the costs of the Iraqi occupation or Social Security “reforms” included. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the Bush budget would yield a total $2.58 trillion deficit by the ten year period ending in 2015, again without the costs of occupation or Social Security privatization included. This massive deficit is the result of unprecedented military spending and the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. This deficit, as well as the proposed cuts will all weigh very heavily on the shoulders of the U.S. working class, who now not only produce the nation’s wealth but must also pay for the capitalists’ wars against our class brothers and sisters around the world.
“Defense” spending under the proposed budget would increase by 4.8 percent to $419.3 billion. Funding for the Homeland Security Department would increase by 8 percent. Apparently it takes an awful lot of money to maintain Mr. Chertoff’s color-coded “terror meter” after all. According to the White House website (under the section titled “Winning the War on Terror”), included in the new military expenditures is $416 million for something called the Global Posture Initiative, which would ostensibly ease the quick deployment of U.S. troops to any point on the globe. At a time when the U.S. military is strained to the breaking point due to the occupation of Iraq, they are looking for ways to ease this strain. In addition to $1.7 billion for “unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles” (high-tech gliders), the budget calls for $613 million for the Navy’s “Littoral Combat Ship.” This menacing-sounding title belongs to what the Navy describes with a straight face as an “anti-small ship small ship.” When you already have the world’s largest and most powerful navy, apparently you still need small ships to counter other, smaller ships! Nowhere in this multi-billion dollar increase are the costs of the occupation even included, which continue to add up to over $1 billion every week for Iraq alone. While funding is boosted for the “compassionate” Pentagon generals, the programs that the poorest of working people depend upon have been placed squarely on the chopping block.
Not content with putting the well-being of America’s retirees in danger with the plan to privatize Social Security, Bush would like to put their health as well as the millions of others dependent upon Medicaid in jeopardy as well. Medicaid provides health services to 53 million women, children, the disabled, and the elderly who cannot afford private health insurance, and for those whose employers do not provide coverage. Medicaid pays for 1/3 of all births in the U.S. and the care of 2/3 of all nursing home residents. Enrollment for the service has increased by 40 percent since the recession beginning in 2000. The average annual cost to fund Medicaid is $329 billion, which is far less than the annual military budget.
In his proposed budget, Bush would cut over $45 billion from Medicaid. Beginning with the Clinton Administration’s “reforms” of Medicaid in the mid 1990s, politicians of both parties and their corporate backers have continually tried to undermine the program. President Bush’s government has continued to bleed Medicaid since assuming office, with this proposed cut the largest so far. The effect of cuts in Medicaid funding at a time when more and more people are dependent on its services will represent a large dip in the living standards of working people.
In Alabama, for example, where fully 1 in 5 people – 20 percent of the population - depend on Medicaid for health care, the cuts would cost the state $600 million over four years. A March 4 article in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper gives a graphic illustration of the effects of Bush’s class war budget. The Arizona Children’s Clinics for Rehabilitative Services serves 5,000 south Arizona children with severe disabilities and illnesses, with Medicaid paying for 90 percent of its patients. Even without the cuts, the current paltry funding leaves the clinic with a $250,000 deficit. According to clinic director Tammy Stoltz, “We’ll be out of business if Medicaid takes these cuts, and nobody else in the community wants to take care of these kids.” Lee Cauble, a parent whose child receives the clinic’s services was quoted in the same article saying, “The school districts can’t provide enough services for these kids, and yet this clinic doesn’t have enough resources to meet their needs either.” In a country where tens of millions are without health care already, Mr. Bush’s “compassion” will leave even more of the most vulnerable without care.
Also on the chopping block is the food stamp program, which allows the most impoverished sectors of society to feed themselves. The proposed budget would cut $500 million in the fiscal year by eliminating 300,000 recipients. Total cuts would amount to $1 billion over the next ten years. Mr. Bush’s proposal to cut the food allowance to this poorest sector illuminates some interesting statistics about the wealthiest nation on earth.
According to the Department of Agriculture, there are over 36 million people in the U.S. which the department’s census defines as “food insecure” – without enough food. This figure represents a total of 12.1 million households, and of these, the USDA listed 3.8 million households by its very conservative measures as “hungry.” Since 1999 “food insecurity” has risen by 3.9 million people, 2.8 million adults, and over 1 million children. In 2002 there were 34.9 million people in hungry households, compared to 33.6 million in 2001 and 31 million in 1999. To answer this growing crisis of hunger in our country, President Bush and the bosses’ parties respond with bombs and bullets for Iraq, instead of bread and milk for our impoverished communities.
As well as targeting food stamps, the proposed budget would cut over 21 percent from the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides funds for urban rehabilitation. Block Grants fund the acquisition of dilapidated properties, rehabilitation and renovation of the homes of the poor, as well as funding maintenance of sidewalks, streets, utilities and fire protection. In a country where suburbanization and fiscal starvation has ruined whole tracts of the urban landscape this is inexcusable. On the housing front, Bush’s proposed budget would cut $3 billion from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program, which provides housing vouchers to low-income workers allowing them to have a roof over their heads in subsidized housing. A March 6th article in the Evening Standard of Utica, New York illustrated what the cuts would mean for working people. “A study conducted by the non-partisan Center on Budget Policy Priorities released this week found that between Herkimer, Oneida, and Madison counties, 89 fewer families will be likely to receive Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (also known as the Housing Choice Program) in 2006. The President’s budget proposal includes cuts in numerous domestic programs, including the vouchers, over the next several years.” The article goes on to point out that in the same three-county area alone, 417 families would be denied vouchers by 2010. If this is the situation in upstate New York, the number of low-income workers who will be cut off of HUD vouchers in places like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles will certainly be far greater.
Cuts in subsidized child care will be no less drastic. Fully 25,000 children will be cut from the Head Start program. 300,000 will lose other child care programs by 2009, in addition to the 200,000 who have already lost care in the last fiscal year. In the field of education, the “Education President” will cut $264 billion from a variety of programs. Included in this figure is a cut of $12 billion from Mr. Bush’s own failed “No Child Left Behind” program, which replaces standard classroom learning with year-long cramming for a set standardized test.
Separately, the proposed budget would slash a gigantic $940 billion for vocational job training programs. Despite telling the millions of recently laid-off workers that vocational training is the only way to “get ahead” in the job market, our “compassionate conservative” takes away even this “option” as well. Environmental funding will be cut by 6 percent, through the cancellation of a mandated program to replace aging sewer systems. Last but not least, under the proposed budget, the federal government would remove all operational funding of the AMTRAK rail system, transferring all costs to the states, most of which are making drastic cuts of their own. This is a recipe for destroying what little is left of passenger train service in the U.S.
The Bush Administration’s proposed 2006 budget clearly places the phrase “guns before butter” in the starkest fashion. In fact, it is a literal description – bombs before food stamps! This is what the capitalists offer us in the age of their decay: “compassionate” imperialism along with Bush’s smirk and blithe arrogance. However this is nothing new, it was Queen Marie Antoinette of France who said of the Parisian masses in 1789, “let them eat cake!” When the ruling class feels itself to be at the height of its power it usually reaches the heights of arrogance as well. But these people gain little perspective from their perch of power and cannot see the impending catastrophe ahead. In fact, Mr. Bush seemingly can’t even understand what a mess he has gotten himself into in Iraq two years on. Bush’s “compassionate imperialism” is bound for a train wreck sooner or later, just as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s ancien regime fell under the mass movement of the Parisian workers, shopkeepers, and urban poor.
We will have to continue to endure the Bush Administration’s policies and contempt for the next three-and-a-half years. In the U.S. the working class does not yet have its own party to turn to. The Democratic Party has shown its rotten colors again and again, always siding squarely with the interests of big business in the end. We should have all learned by now that we cannot trust these people in the least. What our class needs is a party of our own. We need a mass party of labor, based on the trade unions, and armed with a program of socialist demands that can genuinely meet the needs of working people.
The vast majority of working Americans have already had more than they can stand of the two party duopoly, and a party by and for the working class would be unstoppable. Only with our own representation in government can we stem the tide of the attacks upon our living and working conditions. The time to start building this party is now! We cannot wait until 2008. Nor can we continue to hold out hope that somehow, the Democratic Party will magically transform itself. No one can build the mass party of labor but the working class itself and its organizations. Once we have such a party, all our collective endurance of Bush’s policies and arrogance will not have been in vain!