A Trillion Little Pieces
President Bush's $2.77 trillion budget is fiction masquerading as fact, a governmental version of the made-up memoirs that have been denounced up and down the continent lately. The spending proposal is built around the pretense that the same House and Senate that are set to consider a record deficit of $423 billion will now impose a virtual freeze on everything other than Pentagon and homeland security outlays. The budget writers even fantasized an end to Social Security's lump-sum death benefit — a whopping $255 per recipient — as if Congress would dare to do something so heartless and easy to exploit in an election year.
The point of all these imaginary financial projections is to give the president leeway to cement in place hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts the nation can ill afford and does not need. The cuts were made temporary in the first place because there was no way to even pretend that budgets could be balanced in the future with such an enormous loss of revenue.
Now, to pay for his top priorities — the military and tax cuts — the president is relying on proposed spending cuts. While Congress will never make some of them, it may make others, but only at the peril of the poor and the middle class. Those cuts include basic needs in education, environmental protection, medical research, low-income housing for the elderly and the disabled, community policing, and supplemental food for the needy.
The budget is steeped in campaign-year pretensions, billboarding $65 billion in "savings" across the next five years — more than half of it in Medicare — even as tax revenue is further choked. A Congress up for re-election should be wary of taking that path, particularly as the open-ended costs of the Iraq war dwarf all promised savings.
Mr. Bush was praised last week for calling for an end to dependency on oil imports without dragging out the ill-advised — and meaningless — administration fixation on oil drilling in protected parts of Alaska. Yet there it is, back again in the budget. There is little new in the plan, except for small but worthy initiatives that would be paid for with cuts in equally useful programs already on the books.
The president's plan was, on the whole, depressingly familiar. The administration that produced shattering deficits is at it again. Even the fiction was plagiarized from failed budgets of the past.