[Hpn] NY TIMES: Mugging the Needy
Thu, 03 Apr 2003 09:01:56 -0800
April 3, 2003
Mugging the Needy
By BOB HERBERT
had wanted today's column to be about the events in Tulia, Tex., where a
criminal justice atrocity is at long last beginning to be corrected.
(For those who don't know, prosecutors are moving to overturn the
convictions of everyone seized in an outlandish drug sting conducted by a
single wacky undercover officer.)
But there is another issue crying out for immediate attention. With the eyes
of most Americans focused on the war, the Bush administration and its allies
in Congress are getting close to agreeing on a set of budget policies that
will take an awful toll on the poor, the young, the elderly, the disabled
and others in need of assistance and support from their government.
The budget passed by the House is particularly gruesome. It mugs the poor
and the helpless while giving unstintingly to the rich. This blueprint for
domestic disaster has even moderate Republicans running for cover.
The House plan offers the well-to-do $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, while
demanding billions of dollars in cuts from programs that provide food
stamps, school lunches, health care for the poor and the disabled, temporary
assistance to needy families even veterans' benefits and student loans.
An analysis of the House budget by the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities found that its proposed cuts in child nutrition programs threaten
to eliminate school lunches for 2.4 million low-income children.
Under the House plan, Congress would be required to cut $265 billion from
entitlement programs over 10 years. About $165 billion would come from
programs that assist low-income Americans.
This assault on society's weakest elements has been almost totally
camouflaged by the war, which has an iron grip on the nation's attention.
The House budget does not dictate the specific cuts that Congress would be
required to make. In its analysis, the center assumed (as did the House
Budget Committee) that the various entitlement programs would be cut by
roughly the same percentages. If one program were to be cut by a somewhat
smaller percentage, another would have to be cut more.
The analysis found that in the year in which the budget sliced deepest:
¶"The cut in Medicaid, if achieved entirely by reducing the number of
children covered, would lead to the elimination of health coverage for 13.6
¶"The cut in foster care and adoption programs, if achieved by reducing the
number of children eligible for foster care assistance payments, would lead
to the elimination of benefits for 65,000 abused and neglected children."
¶"The cut in the food stamp program, if achieved by lowering the maximum
benefit, would lead to a reduction in the average benefit from an already
lean 91 cents per meal to 84 cents."
When's the last time one of the plutocrats in Congress waded through a meal
that cost 84 cents?
The Senate budget is not as egregious. It calls for a total of about $900
billion in tax cuts, and there is no demand for cuts in entitlement
programs. But it is not a reasonable budget. In fact, there's something
obscene about a millionaires' club like the Senate proposing close to a
trillion dollars in tax cuts for the rich while the country is already
cutting social programs, running up huge budget deficits and fighting a war
in the Middle East.
At least in the House budget the first if not the worst of the cuts are
in plain view. In the Senate plan the inevitable pain of the Bush budget
policies remains concealed.
"There is a significant human toll in the Senate budget, but it's in the
future," said Robert Greenstein, the center's executive director. "What I
mean is that given the deficits we're already in, you can't keep doing tax
cuts like this you can't keep cutting your revenue base without it
inevitably leading to sharp budget cuts."
House and Senate conferees are now trying to resolve the differences in the
two budget proposals. They will do all they can to minimize the public
relations hit that is bound to come when you're handing trainloads of money
to the rich while taking food off the tables of the poor. So you can expect
some dismantling of the House proposal.
But no matter what they do, the day of reckoning is not far off. The budget
cuts are coming. In voodoo economics, the transfer of wealth is from the
poor and the working classes to the rich. It may not be pretty, but it's the
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