The budget document President Bush has submitted to Congress for 2007 ought to edge out James Frey’s A Million Tiny Pieces as this year’s most audacious work of fiction masquerading as fact. One can only hope Oprah will summon Bush to the confession couch before someone in Congress takes his budget seriously.
Where education is concerned, the president and his advisors would like us to believe the $3.2 billion he’s proposing in funding cuts (see the Front Page) would help this nation balance its budget. It won’t.
For starters, the president knows full well that Congress will do no such thing as cut education by $3.2 billion–not in an election year. So this proposal is primarily a sham when it comes to education.
The best he can hope for is that the proposed cuts will fool some red-state dead-enders into believing that, in his heart, Bush really is a fiscal conservative.
“Heaven knows he tried,” the Bush supporters can lament. “It’s just that our president was thwarted by that spendthrift Congress.” (This will be especially useful should Democrats manage somehow to make gains in the November congressional election.)
What the president’s 2007 education budget actually will do is divert attention from genuine issues and force educators and education advocates to expend sweat and treasure in an effort to hold on to needed programs. For example, they’ll be forced once again to mount a spirited defense of essential programs such as the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) initiative.
Bush tried to kill that program last year, but managed only to maim it. The president wanted EETT funding at zero, and education advocates wanted to keep funding steady. Congress ended up splitting the difference, cutting the program by nearly half. If the same scenario unrolls this time around, EETT soon will be a basket case.
According to some Bush supporters, educators who object to the president’s proposed budget cuts are being selfish. With all the extraordinary expenses hitting us these days, they argue, everybody has to give a little.
That might seem like a compelling argument, but wait a minute.
Anybody really serious about reducing the federal deficit wouldn’t be proposing to retain massive revenue cuts. Yet, the tax cuts Bush is fighting to keep intact would cut federal revenues by $1.35 trillion over the next decade.
Who benefits from this administration largesse? Disproportionately, that would be the nation’s wealthiest citizens. In fact, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution, all the Bush tax cuts would provide an average annual break of $650 to households in the middle fifth of the income scale. Households earning more than $1 million, on the other hand, would enjoy average tax breaks of $136,000 per year. So much for, “Everybody has to give a little.”
What is true, however, is that educators wouldn’t be alone in bearing the brunt of the president’s proposed budget cuts.
Overall, the president is calling on Congress to cut nearly $15 billion in spending next year. Besides education initiatives, the cuts target people programs ranging from public-housing construction to federal spending on community policing and firefighting. Bush wants to cut federal aid for water cleanup and eliminate a nutritional program for the elderly. In that last instance, he’d like to make up for killing the nutrition program by putting the affected elderly on food stamps.
At the same time, Bush is calling for $36 billion in cuts in Medicare’s growth over the next five years, largely by limiting payments to doctors and hospitals. Try to imagine what doctors and hospitals will do if that happens.
Should Bush’s health cuts come to pass, states and localities will have the choice of letting some of the elderly go without care or assuming the financial burden unloaded by the feds. They’ll most likely opt to do a little of each. That, in turn, will divert money states and localities otherwise could have spent to make up for the federal cuts in education. Result: poorer health care, poorer education.
Still, somebody besides the rich must come out ahead in a proposed budget that weighs in at nearly $2.8 trillion. You might not believe this, but guess what: The military would. Bush wants to increase funding for the Defense Department to $439 billion — up 7 percent over this year’s funding level.
Well, there’s a war on, right? We have to support our troops. Actually, the hundreds of billions we’re spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t counted in the budget. Those are being funded as off-budget “emergencies.”
When it comes to the president’s 2007 budget, the kindest thing might be to kill it outright. (If it’s only wounded or infirm, it might die a slow and painful death owing to the lack of health care.)
Summing up the education and health proposals in Bush’s budget, one Republican had just the word for it. “Scandalous,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.