WASHINGTON - President Bush's budget plan for fiscal year 2006 is a $2.5 trillion statement about conservative ideology and a very nice "thank you" note to campaign contributors and supporters.
The affluent and corporate, pleased with the recent windfall of $819 billion in tax cuts, are still annoyed with budget deficits that threaten to undercut economic growth. Responding to calls for spending cuts and fiscal discipline, Mr. Bush is relishing the opportunity to both please his wealthy supporters and enact the conservative dream of no government social spending. Lacking political power, those on the bottom rungs of our social order - increasingly including members of the middle class - are the major targets of the Bush austerity plan. It is around their shrinking bellies that this budget belt will be tightened.
At the same time, Mr. Bush's budget is dangerously deceptive, omitting billions of dollars in war spending and even more in estimated costs to enact his Social Security privatization plan. It calls for eliminating or severely cutting funding in 150 government programs. The cuts will come overwhelmingly on the backs of the poor, the very young, the elderly, the disabled and the teetering middle class, but will protect Mr. Bush's lavish tax cuts to the wealthy and pave the way for the exorbitant cost of making them permanent.
Except for defense, homeland security and entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security, government is being cut by 0.5 percent. Military spending, by contrast, will increase by at least 5 percent to $419.3 billion, more if $80 billion supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is added.
Domestic spending programs will suffer an overall loss of 1 percent in spending, including cuts to education, Medicaid, veteran health benefits, farm subsidies, transportation, environmental protection, housing, food assistance, early literacy programs and community development.
Many living above the poverty and low-income levels, our middle class, are often one paycheck away from financial insecurity and are seeing their real wages stagnating and health care costs skyrocketing. Cuts to educational programs and transportation also hit them hard. Medicaid, often regarded as help only for the poor, is relied on extensively by the middle class for such things as nursing home care for their parents or help when they or family members become disabled. Affordable housing and environmental sustainability are of increasing concern to middle-income Americans.
About 4.5 million Americans joined the ranks of poverty from 2000 to 2003. In 2003, more than 13 million Americans, most of them children of working parents, lived in poverty. The poverty line is $19,157 annually for a family of four. Real wages are stagnant. Unemployment is at 5.4 percent, with millions of Americans out of work.
New jobs pay, on average, 21 percent less than the jobs they are replacing. Medicare costs and prescription drug costs are unsustainable, 45 million people have no health insurance and 18,000 unnecessary deaths occur each year because of lack of proper health care.
This budget is an offense to so much that we hold dear as Americans. It is against the American ideals of providing a social safety net for those who come upon hard times, for providing decent pay and benefits for workers, for the promise of a decent standard of living. This budget finally takes the mask off of compassionate conservatism and lets it be known that America is to be a country of, by and for the wealthy.
Karen Dolan is a fellow and project director of Cities for Progress at the Institute for Policy Studies.