The Bush Budget is Bad Business
By Congressman Brad Sherman
If President Bush ran a business and submitted a budget like the one he sent to Congress on February 5, he would face a shareholder revolt. Instead of putting our fiscal house in order – like it was when the President took office and inherited a strong surplus – his plan would add $3.2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
Despite the President’s claims, his budget would not achieve even a modest surplus in five years because it ignores significant expenses and uses accounting gimmicks to mask reality. Among his unrealistic “savings,” he would eliminate or slash funding for programs that he knows Congress won’t abolish or severely cut. They include education, local law enforcement, housing, transportation, pension security, and health care for senior citizens, veterans, the disabled and the poor.
Businesses don’t get to overstate their revenues or pretend some expenses won’t be incurred in order to balance their books, and the federal government shouldn’t either.
What’s more, his projections don’t add up unless we get lucky and the economy keeps growing, corporate profits soar, inflation remains under control and foreigners continue lending the U.S. money at reasonable interest rates.
The President has talked about the need for bipartisanship and working together. That’s a start. We want to work with him, but there is a lot of work to be done. Unfortunately, his rhetoric is not matched by the line-by-line reality of his latest budget. Instead of taking America in a new direction, on issue after issue the Bush budget pursues the same misplaced priorities of the past six years:
Social Security: Despite clear opposition to his flawed privatization plan, the President’s budget would turn Social Security’s guaranteed benefit into a guaranteed gamble in 2012. The 3.1 million Social Security beneficiaries in California would see their annual benefits cut by $6,850 on average under Bush’s private accounts plan.
Veterans: Health care for veterans would remain severely underfunded. Co-payments and enrollment fees for veterans would go up. The 2.2 million veterans in California would be hurt by the meager 6 percent increase in Veterans Affairs spending at a time when the VA has testified that veterans’ health benefits would have go up by twice that much just to meet rising costs and increased demand.
Health Care for Children and Adults: While lawmakers in Sacramento have taken up an ambitious health care agenda, the President proposes to freeze funding at 2006 levels for uninsured children. What’s needed instead is a significant increase just to cover the more than 800,000 children already enrolled in the California State Children’s Health Insurance Program known as the Healthy Families Program. He also would cut billions from the Medicaid and Medicare programs, threatening both the health care access of 9.4 million Californians covered under those programs and the fees of health care providers.
College Students: For students already struggling to keep pace with rapidly rising tuition and fees, the President would eliminate the Federal Perkins Loan program and cut nine other higher education programs, shortchanging California’s 228,489 students with loans.
Homeland Security: The budget would reduce the national funding level for the Law Enforcement Terrorist Prevention Program from $384 million in 2006 to just $263 million. Under that program, California received $73.3 million from 2004 through 2006. Is this really the time to cut funds at the local level to combat terrorism?
Law Enforcement: At a time of rising crime rates, the President would wipe out the Community Oriented Police Program – the one credited with cutting crime in the 1990’s. Moreover, while California jail cells are crowded with illegal immigrants charged with crimes, he would eliminate money for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program that reimburses states for money they spend incarcerating illegal immigrants. This year, Congress restored about $405 million for the program, including about $114 million for California, still only a fraction of the roughly $897.3 million in expected expenses for California alone.
Fortunately, the President’s budget proposal is just the beginning of the process. Congress writes the next chapter. To be sure, it hasn’t always been a happy ending. Last year’s budget and appropriations process left us with the biggest budget mess since Republicans took over the government and then shut it down in 1996. A bill to repair the damage and fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2007 was among the first measures to pass the House in the new session of Congress.
As we shape our spending priorities for the next fiscal year, I will work with Speaker Pelosi and others in the California congressional delegation – Republicans and Democrats alike – to make sure that the final budget reflects the needs of our state and our country.