2008-03-07 / Columnists

Meeks' Message From Capitol Hill

The Bush Budget: Unreal And Unsustainable
Comment By Congressman Gregory Meeks

The daily newspapers, cable stations, network morning shows, afternoon news breaks, midday talk radio, nightly news programs and eleven o'clock news roundups - starting with the Iowa caucus, going through Super Tuesday all the way up to the Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont primaries earlier this week ¯- have had our heads swirling with coverage of primaries, caucuses, pledged delegates, super delegates, dueling ads, presidential trips, White House disputes with Congress, rifts between Democrats and Republicans, bad economic news followed by even worse economic news. It's been "all the news that's fit to print" and quite a bit that isn't.

Unfortunately, covering the presidential nomination process has allowed the media and most of the rest of us, to give short shrift to the federal budget process. By law, Congress is supposed to adopt a budget for the upcoming fiscal year by the first of October. That's a full month before voters go the polls in November to elect the next president and the next Congress.

The first step in the federal budget process took place when President Bush issued his budget proposal a month ago. Coverage of Mr. Bush's budget barely lasted a 48 - hour news cycle. In part this is because, as the saying goes, "the president proposes the Congress disposes." In other words, it's now up to Congress to adopt a budget resolution, hold hearings, draft a budget, make appropriations; on the way to adopting the actual budget for fiscal year 2009 (FY 2009).

Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate agree that the president's budget request was DOA, dead on arrival. Although Democrats and Republicans also disagree about many of the things that should be in it, the budget Congress finally passes will bear little resemblance to the president's budget. This doesn't mean the administration will not be a factor. It will, if only because the president must either sign whatever budget Congress adopts before it can become law, or veto it. This means Mr. Bush's proposal not only sets the terms of the debate, but also will have an impact on the final product.

Unfortunately, this is the seventh consecutive time that the terms of debate established by a Bush budget proposal are profoundly unacceptable, untenable and unsustainable. After seven years of deficits and debt, he has only proposed more of the same policies that produced record deficits and skyrocketing debt in the first place. Not even the fiscal meltdown that has hit financial services, homeowners facing foreclosure, the undermining of the revenue base of states and municipalities, the rapid descent of the economy toward recession, or the constantly escalating cost of the Iraq war, seem to have jolted Mr. Bush to the reality of his unsustainable budget policy.

The president will leave office next January having turned a projected $714 billion surplus for FY 2009 that he inherited from President Clinton into a projected $407 billion deficit. That's a $1.1 trillion swing from the black into the red.

Bush took the oath of office in January 2001 with a $5.6 trillion ten year projected surplus. He heads into the last year of his presidency facing a $3.4 trillion ten year projected deficit - a $9 trillion swing further into the red.

When Bush came into office, the national debt stood at $5.7 trillion. Under his FY 2009 budget, the national debt will reach $10.3 trillion. His near doubling of the national debt is more debt than all presidents accumulated from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, combined.

When George Bush became president, foreigners held $1 trillion of our national debt. By the end of 2007, the foreign-held share of our national debt had grown to $2.3 trillion.

This level of deficits and debt hampers our capacity to address the issues mentioned above, not to mention the challenge of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and restoring our global competitiveness. The situation will get worse as long as the president clings to making tax cuts permanent and continues spending at least $12 billion a month on the Iraq war.

Congress can set new priorities and begin to reestablish fiscal sanity. Unfortunately, that task is made more difficult by the Republican congressional leadership, which continues to support the president's fiscal course.

Where this course leads is evident in the president's call for draconian cuts in the social safety net on which millions of Americans depend, cuts that will inflict undeserved pain on New York State, including cuts of $9.7 million in Edward Byrne Justice Assistance grants; $31.9 million in firefighters assistance; $16.8 million in Clean Water State Revolving Fund grants; $64.5 million in community development block grants; $11.2 million in assistance to dislocated workers; $4.6 million in assistance to manufacturers; $10.2 million in grants to improve teacher quality; $59.9 million in career and technical education assistance; $34.9 million in support for 21st Century Learning After-School Centers; $2 million in child care development block grants; $40 million in low-income home energy assistance; $32.1 million in social service block grants; $74.9 million in Public Housing Capital Fund grants; and $28.8 million in Federal-Aid Highways Program assistance, which helps New York State build, rehabilitate and improve the National Highway System and other roads and bridges.

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