Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Kerry on Bush's Budget

Bush's Budget Assaults Our Values

by John Kerry

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Eagle Tribune Masthead

Last week's debate on the federal budget should remind all Americans that Washington is not working for them.

If the president gets his way, Lawrence residents should prepare themselves for cuts in everything from home heating assistance to vocational education to law enforcement. The president tried to cut the $1.3 million grant currently revitalizing Haverhill's Acre, Mount Washington and Highlands neighborhoods, but fortunately we were able to block that cut in the Senate.

The votes last week were more than ticks in the won-loss column; they were assaults on our nation's values. Honesty, opportunity and responsibility were all cut from this budget. These cuts should give us all cause for concern, because in the end budgets are a statement of your priorities. They are your values backed up by dollars and cents.

When considering the budget of the United States, honesty at minimum means actually counting every dollar we plan to spend. It sounds simple -- it's what every American does -- but this budget doesn't do it.

Ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost at least $400 billion over 10 years. That's not in the budget. The president's Social Security scheme will cost another $750 billion over 10 years. That's not in the budget. The budget ignores interest on the debt, which not even the most creative accountant would leave out.

This budget is like an Enron budget -- smoke the numbers, cook the books, hide the truth and hope no one finds out. When Enron went bust, stockholders were the losers. When this budget goes bust, the American taxpayer will be the loser. They'll lose because this budget does exactly what Enron did: It makes irresponsible choices the administration does not want you to know about.

The responsible choice would be to honor those who have worn our nation's uniform, but the administration made a different choice. They're raising veterans' health care fees by $250 a year while cutting taxes for millionaires. They welcome home our troops with $2.6 billion in unanticipated co-payments and fees instead of cracking down on offshore tax shelters. The result of these irresponsible choices: In Massachusetts alone over 22,000 veterans could be forced to leave the VA health care system, including 7,600 active patients. Some in Washington may be quick to embrace the symbols of patriotism with words, but too often deeds lag behind.

Responsibility also means keeping our nation on sound financial footing for the long run, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates we'll be facing over $5 trillion in new debt because of this president. These debts not only hurt your children in the future -- they hurt you and every family today. Almost 8 cents of every tax dollar goes just toward paying interest on the debt. By contrast, you only pay about 2 cents on the dollar for education. $160 billion goes to interest on the debt, not to giving health care to every child, fully funding No Child Left Behind, securing our energy independence or funding a military family's Bill of Rights. Eight cents on the dollar is a lot of money, and it's not buying you more security and it's not buying your kids a better education. On the other hand, bankers in Japan and Korea and Taiwan are benefiting, and you should be worried about it. Responsible leaders wouldn't turn our economic future over to the whims of foreign bankers. They would fight to keep it in responsible hands here at home.

The American people also deserve a budget that keeps faith with the promise of opportunity for all, special privileges for none. One of the dangers in tight fiscal times is you start hearing a lot of empty talk about tough choices that are really nothing more than excuses to destroy opportunity. We heard the excuses from the administration during the recession, we heard them during the war, and we've heard plenty more excuses during this budget debate.

The administration makes a number of "tough choices" in this budget under the guise of fiscal restraint. The budget gives a huge tax cut to people making over $1 million a year, but cuts heating aid and vocational education in Massachusetts by over $20 million. The budget wastes billions of dollars in corporate loopholes, while Boston Children's Hospital should expect a $7 million cut and almost 28,000 students across the state could be kicked out of after-school programs. The budget wastes billions more in offshore tax shelters, but cuts Even Start literacy programs in Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton, Greenfield, Pittsfield, Orange and across the commonwealth. The Safe and Drug Free School Program is completely eliminated.

There is not a tough choice in the list above, and there can be no excuse. The people deserve better, and that starts by demanding our leadership do a better job budgeting our cherished values of honesty, responsibility, and opportunity. John F. Kerry is the junior senator from Massachusetts and was the Democratic candidate for president in 2004.


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