Senators pass Bush steal from poor budget

WASHINGTON — The Senate rushed through a measure March 16 to increase the nation’s debt ceiling to just under $9 trillion, approved a $2.8 trillion 2007 fiscal year budget resolution and went home to try to explain to angry voters why they approved President Bush’s “steal from the poor” budget.

Senate Democrats voted against raising the debt ceiling, forcing Republicans who have hammered them as “tax and spend liberals” to take the heat for Bush policies that have created the nation’s largest federal deficits with trillions in tax cuts for the rich, a bloody war in Iraq and Pentagon boondoggling. The debt ceiling bill squeaked through on a 52-48 party-line vote. The House Republicans slipped a similar bill through in the dead of night hoping to avoid voter anger in an election year.

In the budget resolution, senators sought to placate the public by approving with wide margins a series of bills that partially restored home heating assistance for the poor and funds for education and for veterans and families of Iraq war dead and wounded — all programs slashed to the bone in Bush’s budget.

The Bush budget includes $700 billion to privatize Social Security and $6.3 billion in immediate Social Security benefit cuts, $13.7 billion in cuts to Medicaid, the largest cuts in federal aid to education in history, and termination of child care benefits for 400,000 children. It contains $900 billion in tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of taxpayers over the next 10 years.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that Bush’s tax cuts will cost $3.3 trillion over the next decade and saddle taxpayers with $492 billion in interest payments, mostly to wealthy banks.

The Senate also approved Bush’s $72 billion supplemental request for the Iraq war on top of his request for $439.3 billion for the Pentagon, a 7 percent increase over last year’s defense budget.

Simon Harak, anti-militarism coordinator of the War Resisters League, charged that the Bush budget hides hundreds of billions in military spending, including 50 percent of NASA’s budget and 80 percent of the Energy Department budget earmarked for military tasks. If those expenditures were added to the Pentagon budget the total would be about $563 billion, he said. “Not only do we have an enormous war department budget,” he said, “they keep asking for these supplemental spending bills to fight the wars.”

The real cost of Bush’s global militarism is pushing toward $700 billion each year, the main reason “we don’t have enough money to help the Katrina victims,” Harak said. “A sure way to stop these wars is to stop funding them.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) has introduced a bill to do just that: terminate all funding for Iraq except for the funds needed to bring U.S. troops home.

Louisiana’s Sen. Mary Landrieu was the sole Democrat to vote for the final budget resolution based on a promise of $2 billion a year for levee repair and reconstruction in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, funded by revenues from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Some call this giving with one hand and stealing with the other.

The House Republican leadership will try to strip the added spending for human needs out of the budget when they return from spring recess.

Grassroots groups like MoveOn.org are mobilizing to fight what the online group calls Bush’s “reverse-Robin Hood budget disaster that robs from the poor, gives to the rich and explodes the deficit.”

MoveOn points out that when the House returns from recess and takes up the budget, “the final decision will come down to just a handful of swing Republicans.” The group is targeting voters in these swing districts, urging a flood of messages to the lawmakers demanding that they vote against the Bush budget. “Opposing this budget is also key to victory in 2006,” the message continues. “The reverse-Robin Hood approach is deeply unpopular once it is understood.”