Friday, January 13, 2006

TIM DICKINSON'S PIECE IN ROLLING STONE, "The Deficit Lie," is an absolute must-read. The media reported the passing of this budget when it happened just before Christmas, but not enough has been written about just how bad it is, and the corrupt way it was slammed into law with next to no congressional or public scrutiny.

Dickinson's breathtaking opener, describing how Dick Cheney dropped everything to fly back home from halfway around the world to cast the tie-breaking vote that ensured the bill's passage, underscores the sense of evil:

Vice President Dick Cheney was on a rare mission abroad, expressing his support for the millions left homeless by a massive earthquake in Pakistan, when he received a summons to return to Washington immediately. His vote was needed to break a tie on the Senate floor, where five Republicans had broken ranks to oppose the president's Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

Racing halfway around the world on a trans-hemispheric red-eye, Cheney arrived on December 21st, just in time to cast the decisive vote. His "aye" gave Republicans a 51-50 victory on the budget cuts -- a measure that will saddle low-income college students with debt, cheat poor kids out of $8 billion in child support and deny medical care to as many as 100,000 people living in poverty.

In public, Republican budget hawks insisted that they made these "tough choices" to stem the "rising tide of red ink in Washington." But, in November, behind closed doors, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas confided to a group of lobbyists that the GOP slashed social programs for the poor by $40 billion to help pay for $90 billion in new tax cuts -- almost half of which will go to wealthy Americans with incomes in excess of $1 million. The net result of the Deficit Reduction Act will be a $50 billion increase in the deficit. In the bizarro world of President Bush's doublespeak bills, the new spending measure takes its place alongside the Clear Skies Act, which sought to increase air pollution, and the Healthy Forests Initiative, which opened America's woodlands to more clear-cutting. "If this is deficit reduction," says Bob McIntyre, director of the nonpartisan advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice, "then up is down, down is up and George Orwell is president."

It cannot be stated too many times or too strongly that this budget was championed by a president who says that Jesus of Nazareth is his favorite philosopher, and that he is guided by religiously inspired values of honesty, compassion, and generosity.

Is that why even hardened members of Congress were shocked to their core by the cruelty and greed behind it, and by the stealthy, fly-by-night way it was shoved through Congress?

In the Senate, the measure seemed headed for defeat when a handful of moderate Republicans refused to support the cuts, which GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine blasted as "draconian." Majority Leader Bill Frist was forced to give Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota a $30 million subsidy for his state's sugar-beet industry, essentially bribing him to back the bill. "They have no shame," Minority Leader Harry Reid tells Rolling Stone. "These cuts are simply un-American."

Sen. Kent Conrad, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, decried the dearth of public scrutiny for a bill "written behind closed doors, filed in the dead of night and voted on at the crack of dawn." But Rep. Dave Obey, ranking Democrat of the House Appropriations Committee, isn't angry with his Republican colleagues for operating in the dark. "I don't blame them," he says. "If I put together a bill like this, I'd do it with the lights out too."

The extent of the budget cuts caught even veteran Democrats off guard. "In all my time in the Senate," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, "I cannot remember a time when we have considered such drastic cuts to safety-net programs that threaten to devastate working families." ...
As if this assault on the poor wasn't enough, Republicans also gutted another $3 billion from social programs in a separate bill on discretionary spending -- a measure that flew through Congress in such a pre-Christmas flurry as to make the Deficit Reduction Act seem well considered. The bill received so little public scrutiny that the Senate was even able to duck a traditional roll-call vote, leaving no record of which GOP senators voted to slash job training for the poor, cut funding for community colleges and kick as many as 25,000 kids out of Head Start.

Nor will the budget cuts do anything to reduce the deficit, which is projected to hit $365 billion. Thanks to tax cuts expected to be finalized early this year, most of the money will go directly into the pockets of the country's wealthiest citizens. Three-fourths of all Americans will not see a dime from the president's move to make permanent his cuts on dividend and capital-gains taxes -- while the nation's richest 1 percent will reap more than $25 billion. By 2010, thanks to Bush, America's millionaires will enjoy annual tax cuts of $130,000.

"I don't know of any religion practicing in America today that preaches from the pulpit that what one should do is take from the least among us to give to those who have the most," says Sen. Conrad. "But that's what this budget is about. It's so profoundly wrong."

That is our born-again, Bible-thumping, church-going, Christian president.

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