The economy is faltering. Tens of thousands of people are unemployed. States, facing unprecedented funding shortfalls, are slashing social programs. In tough times like this, it’s time to...hand out paybacks to campaign contributors? That’s the logic of the proposed federal budget the President George W. Bush announced last week, which is chock full of favors for generous supporters–-and full of cuts for everyone else.
First, and foremost, there’s the new $1.5 trillion tax cut over ten years, more like $1.8 trillion when the cost of paying interest on the resulting national debt is added. (This is on top of the cost of the 2001 Bush tax cut, which, with interest, is estimated to cost $1.6 trillion over ten years.) Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said this week that adding to the nation’s red ink would be bad for the economy, and that tax cuts won’t help. But the president’s proposal reveals a certain logic when you consider that it’s the wealthiest Americans, who are the source of most campaign contributions, who benefit the most under the tax plan. One out of five political donors makes $500,000 a year, and another three out of five make over $100,000, according to an academic survey commissioned by the Joyce Foundation. That puts donors firmly in the elite group of Americans who will benefit the most–the top 10 percent of earners, who will get 60 percent of the tax cuts, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.
There’s $400 billion over ten years in the budget for prescription drugs for seniors, which on the face of it sounds like good news. After all nearly 40 percent of Medicare beneficiaries–-the federal program that provides health care to senior citizens and people with certain disabilities–-lack coverage for prescription drugs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Unfortunately, the cost of providing needed drugs is estimated more in the neighborhood of $2 trillion says Families USA–-about the same amount as the new tax cuts will cost. The president’s plan also pushes seniors into private health plans as a condition for receiving the drug benefits. The pharmaceutical industry, which has fought hard to prevent Medicare from providing prescription drug coverage, gave Bush $486,000 for his 2000 campaign. HMOs and insurance companies, which would benefit from the new members they would get under the Bush plan, gave him more than $260,000.
Other generous campaign contributors with cause to be pleased by the president’s proposed budget include the utilities, timber, and oil and gas industries, the source of $2.7 million for President Bush’s 2000 bid for office. Bush delegates $7.7 million for his Clear Skies initiative, which is described as a plan to reduce air pollution, but does anything but, according the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The plan “actually enables industries to pollute more over a longer period of time, and avoids regulating carbon dioxide emissions,” notes the environmental group. Then
there is the Healthy Forest initiative, touted as a way to reduce forest fires in the West. The plan, however, exempts logging projects in public forests from environmental review and public input–making it easier for timber companies to cut down more trees with the help of public subsidies.
For the oil and gas companies, the budget includes plans to open the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, despite the fact that Congress has rejected proposals to do just this numerous times.
With all these paybacks for campaign contributors stuffed in the budget, it is no great surprise that there’s not much left for everybody else. Rather than expanding training, benefits, and extending health care to the unemployed, the administration has proposed a new program, Personal Reemployment Accounts, which would set a new $3,000 cap on the amount of employment help workers can get from the federal government. There is little in the budget to improve public transportation, or to refurbish crumbling schools. The president has proposed ending funding for a program that pays for the rehabilitation or replacement of dilapidated public housing projects, and is also roposing to raise rents for poor people who receive federal housing aid. In tough times like these, apparently, it’s the have-nots who get less, and the have-mores who get more.