Budgets Are Moral Documents

A budget is a moral document. It clearly demonstrates the priorities of a family, a church, an organization or a government. A budget shows what we most care about. Last week President Bush sent his budget to Congress, a budget he said reflected his most important priorities. So it is worth paying close attention to.

The president's budget of $2.23 trillion dollars proposes a record deficit of $300 billion, speeds up billions of dollars of tax cuts that provide most of their benefits to the wealthiest Americans, includes huge increases for the Pentagon, and slashes domestic spending : including core government programs that provide affordable housing, curb juvenile delinquency, hire police officers, bring aid to rural schools, help make child care available to low-income working mothers, and guarantee children's health insurance. There are the Bush priorities.

The deficits increase each year and run up to $1 trillion dollars over the next five years. The Pentagon budget is increased by 4.2% to $380 billion, beyond what was already the biggest military buildup since the height of the Cold War defense budgets under Ronald Reagan. Most of the increases are not directed to counteracting he new threats from terrorist cells all over the world, but for weapons systems guaranteed to leave no defense contractor behind. And the cost of the impending war with Iraq is not even in the budget!

Administration officials estimate that cost on the low side at $50 billion and on the high side at $200 billion (other estimates run as high as $300 billion). The president says the cost of a war with Iraq will be submitted to Congress as an "emergency measure."

There is no money in this budget for the states, which are confronting huge deficits and the prospects of draconian cuts in social services : mostly to the poor. In fact, this administration suggests states could meet their budget challenges with the "flexibility" to cut programs like health insurance for the nation's poorest children.

George W. Bush now sees himself as a war president; but in time of war there are no sacrifices for those most able to make them. This budget is not a choice between "guns and butter," as the traditional language goes. It is a budget full of both "missiles and caviar" as commentator Mark Shields so aptly put it. The rich get huge tax breaks, the military gets the big increases, and the poor get left behind even more. The president should be commended for increasing the funding for combating AIDS in Africa. Apparently he has been listening to the pleas of international aid organizations and others who have relentlessly lobbied this administration to address the AIDS pandemic; but even that increase, reports the Wall Street Journal, comes from shifting funding from a development-aid initiative for poor nations.

The rest of the programs for mentoring and volunteering laid out in the president's State of the Union speech, while good, are relatively low-cost and ultimately more symbolic than substantial. Without the crucial funding for programs that directly and effectively reduce poverty, the president's "compassionate conservatism" is now in grave danger of becoming compassionless conservatism. Even his faith-based initiative has been reduced...to crumbs falling from the table. What a tragic outcome to the promise and rhetoric of the early days of the Bush administration.

Budgets are moral documents. This one candidly reveals the administration's true priorities.

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