Sunday, November 13, 2005

Let them eat pork

Congressional leaders say it's time to get serious about the deficit, so they cut $36-billion in spending on the country's working poor. And then they give the wealthy $70-billion more in tax breaks.

A Times Editorial
Published November 6, 2005

The spenders in the U.S. Congress are so busy congratulating themselves for cutting food stamps and child-care subsidies that they must think people can't do simple math. But the appropriations bills being portrayed as a necessary curb on deficit spending fail the most basic budgetary test. Take the Senate plan, adopted Thursday: Cut spending by $36-billion and cut taxes by $70-billion.

In other words, take meals away from poor children to hand more tax cuts to millionaires. And increase the federal debt by $34-billion in the process. That's fiscal recklessness in the cruelest of ways.

The House's proposed budget cuts are especially callous: cutting medical benefits for 6-million poor children, removing food stamps to 225,000 working families, eliminating child-care for 330,000 poor children whose parents work. But Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, told his colleagues the financial picture is bleak: "The fact is, our country is going broke. We're spending money we don't have and passing it onto our kids, and at some point, somebody's got to say, "Enough's enough.' "

Boehner's right. People will have to sacrifice to bring the deficit under control, but it's hard to make a case for asking poor people to pay more when rich people are paying less.

An Urban Institute/Brookings Center report on the 2001 tax cuts shows that people with annual incomes of more than $1-million have received an annual average break of $103,000. Further, two new tax breaks scheduled to take effect in January will allow them to pocket $19,200 more each year. The $70-billion in new tax breaks are targeted mostly for capital gains and dividends that accrue to the benefit of investors.

President Bush, who wants to fight a war and rebuild the Gulf Coast without asking taxpayers for any sacrifice, cheered the Senate's work. But let no one in either party pretend this budget is anything other than an obscenity. Forget about the $24-billion worth of pork-barrel transportation projects; take food away from poor children instead.

As to the values implied by such priorities, the president might want to listen to some voices in his faith-based community. A collection of church leaders, including the Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, recently wrote:

"Some contend that these (tax) cuts will stimulate the economy and improve life for all Americans, but we believe that stocking the rich man's larder is a peculiar strategy for getting Lazarus more food. Not only does this policy rest on dubious economic assumptions, but it asks the poor to pay the cost for a prosperity in which they may never share."

This is shared sacrifice?


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