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Snags in the federal budget

Last year when the President introduced his budget, the government was running large surpluses and repeated promises were made about using those surpluses to bolster the Social Security and Medicare Trust funds.

Friday, February 22, 2002

Last year when the President introduced his budget, the government was running large surpluses and repeated promises were made about using those surpluses to bolster the Social Security and Medicare Trust funds.

What a difference a year makes. The budget released by the President last week proposes to spend all of the Medicare surplus and $1.5 trillion of the Social Security surplus. Moreover, it includes a $1.5 trillion budget deficit over the next 10 years.

Americans are willing to pay any price for the security of our nation, and I strongly support the President’s plans to significantly expand funding for defense and homeland security. Winning the war against terrorism is our top priority, and we are certainly willing to make sacrifices for that urgent cause.

But the deficit spending that is proposed by the President cannot be blamed on the war against terrorism. Two weeks ago, the Congressional Budget Office, an arm of the House Leadership, confirmed that last year’s enacted tax cut was the largest single factor in the $4 trillion deterioration of the budget. This tax cut was so expensive because 43 percent of the total tax cut benefits went to households with incomes on average over $900,000.

Incredibly, the President’s new deficit budget includes even more tax cuts – $600 billion worth. If these tax additional tax cuts were designed to benefit the middle class, they would be a sensible investment.

But these tax cuts, once again, are skewed in favor of the wealthy. Under the President’s proposed budget, a couple with one child making $20,000 would get no tax cut. Nor would a couple with two children making $28,000, or a single parent of one making $16,000.

When we backslide into deficit spending and crippling debt in order to provide tax cuts for the rich, we saddle our children with the responsibility of re-balancing the budget. This budget proposal would have us borrow from our children’s future economic prosperity to pay for tax cuts that would total $2.5 trillion over 10 years.

This budget also includes substantial cuts for programs that are important to Ohio. The state’s share of federal highway funding would be reduced by $280 million, forcing delays in construction. The LIHEAP program, which last winter provided heating assistance to 400,000 households in Ohio, would have to meet the same need next year with $15 million less. All of Ohio’s hospitals would feel the pain of a $40 million statewide cut to the program that reimburses them for the care they provide to the uninsured.

And the Empowerment Zone program, which has created over 1,000 jobs in the Ironton-Huntington, W.Va. region, would be zeroed out by the President’s budget. Eliminating the budget for that program now would default on a 10-year commitment that the federal government made to the Empowerment Zones in 1999. It is shameful to think that we would give up on a program that has been so successful in creating economic growth.

Unfortunately, the budget is also wrought with some Enron-like accounting gimmicks. For example, the budget assumes that growth in Medicare spending will be unrealistically slow, to the tune of $300 billion; the White House is projecting that Medicare will grow more slowly in this ten-year period than in any other 10-year period since its inception. With the numbers of seniors increasing rapidly and the cost of health care growing out of control, this slow rate of growth just isn’t realistic.

But in the context of a budget plan, a low-ball estimation like this one has the same effect as an actual cut in spending, only without the fiscal or political pain. Basically, these savings that show up on paper make the budget appear to be more disciplined than it really is.

This budget represents retreat instead of progress. Over the coming months, I will work with my colleagues in Congress to impose the fiscal discipline that will allow us to win the war on terror while we protect Social Security and Medicare, provide necessary domestic investment and keep the burdens of our current economic situation from being borne by future generations.