There are three budget proposals up for a vote soon, the President’s, the House of Representative’s and the Progressive Caucus’. The Progressive proposal is aligned with what polls say the general public wants so naturally this one doesn’t have a chance. The other two go to different lengths to cut services for the general public and increase breaks for the wealthy, corporations and spending for the military. The fiscal year for this budget kicks off October 1.
The annual budget to-do follows this order: the president submits his to congress (dead in the water, given the hostility of this Congress to anything the president proposes), lawmakers submit theirs, the Senate and House resolve the differences among the three, the president signs it. It’s almost never done on time so temporary funding resolutions are passed to keep the government going until the new budget is passed.
Enough hustlers run for Congress because that seat brings their greedy hands within proximity of the national treasury, so that insures that a lot of wrangling will go on this time of year. It’s not an attractive process. Say a corporation spends one million dollars to bribe, excuse me, to help key senators with their reelection campaigns. A pretty good investment if the budget process channels a couple billion their way.
President Obama’s budget adheres to the numbers from last year’s. Sequestration is the law that requires all budget items to be cut by a fixed percentage if the various factions can’t come to agreement. Of course they will always find a way to exclude the military from this meat cleaver. The President calls for an end to sequestration, a Reagan-era idea and part of the anti-government trappings of that reactionary regime.
The military gets a $2 billion increase with an extra “slush fund” of $59 billion – so named because it doesn’t have to justify itself. An interesting factoid: the Pentagon is excluded from the necessity that all other departments are subject to, the annual audit. Doesn’t that make the whole thing a slush fund? By the way, the U.S. spends more on the military than most of the rest of the world combined. Billions have literally disappeared in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one knows where those dollars went or in whose pockets it now resides. Imagine the scandal if the food stamp program or Planned Parenthood couldn’t account for billions of taxpayer dollars.
There is also a capital gains tax increase in Obama’s budget, sure to fall on deaf GOP ears.
The House proposal is light on detail but prioritizes deficit reduction and claims to create jobs – as usual by cutting taxes for the wealthy using the same old same old discredited trickle-down theory. The $59 billion military slush fund is in the House version, as well as the over $550 billion “defense” budget.
I remember complaining about the $250 billion spent annually on the military but 911 apparently gave the Pentagon a license to print money. Naomi Klein’s TheShock Doctrine discloses how sordid politicians habitually lie in wait for a crisis under the cover of which they can loot the treasury and pass unpopular measures. 911 was an answer to their prayers.
This budget calls for $30 billion in cuts to discretionary funding, like Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps… programs that serve the general public as opposed to those citizens, the important ones, with the tax cuts. Over ten years this budget would slash $887 billion affecting domestic initiatives. There is also a shift to the states of the cost to administer programs, another funding burden that makes for an indirect tax increase on ordinary workers. Or maybe this provision is just another way of sabotaging the services. Or, likely, it’s both.
The Progressive Caucus (75 representatives and 1 senator – Bernie Sanders of course) proposal repeals sequestration and invests in domestic initiatives, job creation, education and other popular programs. The job-creation, unlike the House proposal, is specific, diverting (presumably from the Pentagon) $1 trillion over ten years to invest in the nation’s infrastructure and creation of 3.6 million jobs by 2016.
The Progressive Caucus budget would eliminate the Pentagon slush fund, moving it into the main budget which is slightly more accountable, and requires defense department auditing for the first time. There are cute little items in the military budget, not subject to sequestration caps, like the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund. It would cut the new-but-doesn’t-work-yet-but-trust-us F35 jet fighter and reduce nuclear weapons funding.
Obama's budget proposes $10 trillion over 30 years in nuclear arms spending... and this guy’s a liberal? We should spend trillions to increase the dangers to civilization? Who are his advisors on this, the NRA?
The Progressive Caucus budget foresees savings when troops are finally withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq and increases funding for diplomacy over war (gee, isn't that unAmerican?). It would also raise taxes by closing the capital gains loophole which taxes wealthy income at a lower rate than working people. Not that the rich don’t work – they work, some of ’em, very hard, at maintaining and expanding their privileges. There is only so much privilege and money so how it is distributed affects us all and our system is set up to favor, you might have anticipated this, the elite. This same elite would be stopped, under this plan, from avoiding taxes using off-shore trickery.
Polls show that Medicare and Medicaid are considered very important programs by 63% of our citizenry. Similar numbers support national health care and most of the Progressive Caucus budget.
The House budget is most likely to reach the President’s desk. It reflects how the general public goes woefully underrepresented in our theoretically representative government, which for various reasons, not least the lack of public financing of elections, ends up representing, above all, the interests of that infamous 1% – the ones whose tactics of domination, of divide and conquer, have overstepped, creating odious blowback in the form of Donald Trump.
Author’s Note: This article draws heavily from a recent webinar sponsored by Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).
Image: The illustration is by the author, Tom Ferguson.