Bush budget: Trillions for rich, cuts for the rest of us

WASHINGTON — President Bush’s $2.77 trillion 2007 budget brutally slashes funds for health, education and other vital human needs while lavishing $1.8 trillion in tax cuts on the wealthy over the next 10 years, a coalition fighting for a humane federal budget charged.

The budget, released Feb. 6, would terminate or sharply cut funding for 141 programs and scale back Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and federal retirement programs by $65 billion over the next five years. Funding for health and human services would be slashed 2.3 percent, $36 billion, over five years. Education, including the vaunted No Child Left Behind program and higher education grants and loans, would be cut 3.8 percent, on top of more than $624 million in cuts last year, but $100 million would be provided for private school vouchers.

The Pentagon budget would jump 7 percent to $439.3 billion. This does not count $120 billion for the costs of the war and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, which has cost at least $331 billion since Sept. 11, 2001. The price tag for homeland security is an additional $30.9 billion. Yet in his State of the Union address, Bush asked Congress to make permanent his tax cuts for the wealthy though it will push the federal deficit into the trillions.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said Bush’s budget “provides one more indication of the indifference of the Bush administration to the real needs of working families by cutting funds for job training, Trade Adjustment Assistance, refusing new funds to enforce job safety and mine safety and cutting Medicare.”

Bush rejected appeals for increased mine safety enforcement, Sweeney added, “even in the wake of the recent coal mining tragedies.”

Sweeney said, “The Bush budget slashes vital programs such as Medicare that millions of Americans depend on” even as he “continues to push for massive, fiscally irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthy that will leave generations of Americans in debt.”

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) reacted angrily both to a House vote approving a budget reconciliation bill inflicting nearly $40 billion in cuts to vital human needs programs this year, and to Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2007, which starts Oct. 1.

“The YWCA is outraged that the House voted to cut funding for programs that help women, girls and their families, YWCA clients, Hurricane Katrina survivors and others,” Peggy Sanchez-Mills, the organization’s CEO, said in a statement. “In a time of rising poverty, natural disasters and job layoffs,” she said, “these policies continue to increase hardship and inequality in our country.”

“It’s all part of the same fight for priorities that meet the needs of the people,” said YWCA Advocacy Director Kate Kasper. “What we hear from our local YWCA branches is that they are forced to make cut after cut in programs that serve low-income women and girls.”

She hailed the labor-led Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities (ECAP) that waged a determined grassroots fight to block the budget reconciliation bill, which scraped through the House Feb. 1 by a 216-214 vote.

The narrow victory for Bush and the Republican leadership reflected deep fears in Republican ranks that angry voters will oust them from office next fall. Congress’ standing in the polls is at a record low with several incumbent Republicans implicated in GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s influence peddling and racketeering.

Kasper stressed that the YWCA is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates “but in every election we do a ‘get-out-the-vote’ campaign.” She predicted an all-out drive by the ECAP movement to make the cuts in programs benefiting low-income people the overriding issue in the 2006 House and Senate elections.

Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the 700-member Coalition on Human Needs, told the World the movement is holding strategy meetings on how to fight the cuts. “People worked very hard and a few votes in the House were turned on the budget reconciliation bill,” she said. Now Bush’s 2007 budget includes many proposed cuts that Congress rejected.

Bush is asking Congress to terminate the Commodities Supplemental Food Program, arguing that impoverished recipients of this food will obtain it instead through the WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) nutrition program. “But senior citizens can’t obtain WIC benefits,” Weinstein said. “And the same Food Stamp cuts rejected by Congress last year are back in this budget. Over 650,000 families with children will lose benefits.”

“It is my expectation that an even larger coalition” will emerge in communities across the nation, she said. “They are the ones hurting from these outrageous cutbacks.”