Return to story
IF I WERE looking to provide readers with a cure for insomnia, writing about the federal budget would usually be a good choice. But the budget President Bush presented recently is anything but a snoozer. It has people on both sides of the partisan fence wide-eyed and loaded for bear.
With his State of the Union address and his proposed fiscal 2006 budget, the president has taken two great strides toward helping Americans realize they ought to be more careful about whom they elect. Take note of his approval rating, which is down to 45 percent, according to an Associated Press poll.
Most people agree that Mr. Bush, emboldened by his 51-percent-of-the-vote "mandate," is not one to shy away from a fight, or to take what might be unpopular stands. What he is in the midst of proving, thanks to his arrogant, Bush-knows-best personality, is that there is no fine line between heroism and stupidity. He is leaving no doubt as to which side of the line his legacy will fall on.
I really had no desire to watch the State of the Union address. As my mother used to caution me about crossing my eyes, I was afraid my face might freeze with the contorted wince that happens I get whenever I see him speak on television. But he kept showing up as I switched channels, so I gave in.
What I gleaned from the sound bites between the 80 rounds of gratuitous applause is that all the nations of the globe should become the United States of Earth, and that all its peoples will be free in the American mold. I guess that means we'll need to bomb the heck out of their countries first.
Sounds like a plan--as well as evidence of the brilliance behind the 22nd Amendment. That's the one that limits a president to two terms.
After the State of the Union lets the president rattle off what he wants to do, he presents a budget that shows how he plans to do it.
Certainly reconciling a federal budget is a bit more complicated than balancing a checkbook, but President Bush is offering a budget that takes America where it hasn't been before, and shouldn't ever go: to fiscal Neverland, where huge expenditures can be wished away in a fantasy spending plan.
The top priority, the No. 1 budget buster, is the war in Iraq. Since even the most arithmetic-challenged American would see the economic burden the war presents, the president leaves it out of his budget entirely. After all, he promised a balanced budget by 2009, and that just won't happen if you include the war billions. He can do that because he is president.
In fact, he would have us overlook not only the financial cost of the war, but its human toll as well. It has been the administration's policy to downplay the returning war dead. The president doesn't attend funerals or memorial services because of the media spotlight that accompanies him. If Americans were kept apprised of these things, they might begin to question the president's policies. Can't have that.
Defense Department figures show that 140 Americans died between the start of the war on March 20, 2003, and the president's aircraft carrier declaration on May 1, 2003, that major combat had ended. Since major combat ended, 1,309 Americans have been killed. Maybe we should be relieved because Lord knows what the toll would be if there was major combat going on.
In the meantime, the administration has acknowledged that there are apparently no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, nor is there a connection between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida or the Sept. 11 attacks.
So let's see, why are we there again? Because Saddam was cruel to his own people? The world is rife with barbaric dictators, but we haven't sent in American troops to depose them. Yet.
It's important here to understand that taking issue with the president's foreign policy in no way diminishes the courage U.S. troops are displaying in Iraq and elsewhere, or the hardship their service is causing them and their families. They are no different than all the American men and women before them who have been placed in harm's way, and they deserve our utmost respect and admiration.
At least the president has recognized the financial cost of losing a loved one in Iraq by initiating increased insurance benefits to survivors at home.
President Bush must be taken to task, however, for the toll his billion-dollar-a-week war is taking on domestic programs, especially on poor and disabled Americans as well as on education, transpor-tation, and environmental spending.
Now he wants to tamper with Social Security, the one source of funds that generations of American retirees have counted on to be there and should continue to be. He says people should be allowed to invest some of those funds in the stock market and be better off. Maybe they will be, maybe not. The market offers no guarantees. Republicans have joined Democrats in questioning the plan.
The startup cost of Social Security reform, like the cost of the war, is not included in the president's budget. But like the war, it is predicated on instilling a sense of fear in Americans: "If we don't invade Iraq, Iraq will help attack us. If we don't change how Social Security works, we will all live our Golden Years in the gutter."
Americans should inform him that they're not that gullible.
His tax cuts are, however, causing real hurt for the least fortunate among us, those whose protests we are least likely to hear. The cuts spell doom for domestic assistance programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps, leaving more Americans with nowhere to turn.
In a shameful twist, Americans should be embarrassed that so many returning Iraq war veterans are having to rely on the very services that are being gutted thanks to the president's misguided policies.
Perhaps the tax cuts would be more sensible if they were part of an overall tax reform plan. But certain inequities such as the alternative minimum tax are going unaddressed. Though it was designed to make sure the richest among us pay their share, the AMT has become an onerous and unfair burden--even bankrupting some middle-class taxpayers.
How thoughtful it is for President Bush to use the State of the Union address and his proposed budget to sum up for us all that he is doing wrong.
RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.