WASHINGTON, D.C., FEBRUARY 28—President George W. Bush went to bat for his $1.6 trillion tax cut (actually $2.3 trillion, according to some analyses) last night. But with all eyes on the tanking markets—NASDAQ was off another 4 percent yesterday—skeptics doubt his projected cut is big enough or fast enough to block the recession barreling toward us. The plan looks more like a supply-side dribble that will benefit Bush’s rich contributors, and not members of the middle or lower middle class, who’ll end up with nothing—or at best a $200-plus annual reduction.
Too little, too late.
Bush told Congress and the nation he could swing all these cuts and pay down an unprecedented amount of the publicly held debt, but as Clinton’s New Economy heads for the trash can, reducing the debt is the least of our worries.
In his State of the Union Address, Bush revealed the broad outline of a budget slated to grow at a snail’s pace of 4 percent—a tick higher than the inflation rate. Aside from the wealthy, the biggest beneficiaries will be military personnel, who’ll divvy up $5.7 billion in raises and increased housing allowances.
Other budget proposals:
Medicare: Bush said he wants to double funding for Medicaid in the decade, starting with $238 million this year, enough to start a new prescription drug benefit. He also wants to offer tax credits to help people buy private insurance. That’s not much help to those who don’t have the cash to buy any kind of insurance.
Social Security: He proposes studying Social Security to figure out how people can invest in the market. This postpones any decision for restructuring the national retirement system—and, more important, takes this subject off the table while stocks plummet and retirees try to extricate themselves from the mess by seeking cover in the money market and treasury bills.
Education: Bush’s plan involves repackaging the minuscule federal contribution (2 percent of all the money spent on education) into block grants so as to give the states more leeway in setting spending priorities.
Faith-Based Charity: Bush wants to stoke a $700 million “compassion fund” over 10 years to boost charities—if he can get his faith-based social services initiative off the ground. He offers everyone (including rich people who are surprisingly mad about his plans for scrapping the estate tax) the option to deduct charitable giving from their taxes. Bush thinks a tax write-off will bring an additional $14 billion in charitable giving.
Ever since Reagan, Republicans have been drooling over the prospect of capturing the black vote, and with Bush, they have their eyes on the black preachers who run social service programs. Of course, the faith-based initiative is also aimed at pleasing right-wing Christian fundamentalists. But what’s going to happen when Jews, Muslims, and Scientologists angle for some of the money? Does anyone really think Congress is going to vote money for the Hare Krishnas?
National Parks: Bush proposes spending $4.9 billion over the next five years for upkeep. That funding should help the administration go forward with its plan to give local interests—including private business—more of a hand in developing and running public lands. This will likely turn into a subsidy for Disney Worlds around the nation.