But first . . .

Just weeks after touting an expansion of job training programs in his State of the Union address, President Bush has cut $300 million from vocational education programs in his 2005 budget.

Released Monday, that budget calls for spending trillions of your dollars in fiscal 2005, so it’s worth a minute or two to check it out. Columnist Matt Miller has read it, and I think it would be fair to say he is not fully on board with the President’s choices.

By Matt Miller

In a perverse sense, you’ve got to hand it to President Bush: When he sets out to bamboozle us with his budget, the man thinks big.

Consider the facts. Bush’s new budget calls for a record federal deficit of $521 billion, meaning he will borrow nearly one in four of the dollars he wants to spend.

He is borrowing this money from children of all incomes in order to achieve his chief priority: extending roughly $300 billion a year in tax cuts mostly to America’s highest earners.

But this understates the scam. The record Bush deficits don’t include the ongoing costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, which Bush plans to submit after the 2004 election. Nor do they include the cost of limiting the growing bite of the alternative minimum tax, which officials privately say they’ll address in any second term, at a cost of tens of billions more each year. (These facts help explain why Bush’s paper pledge to cut the deficit in half over five years is a hoax.)

Bush’s budget also doesn’t look beyond the next five years, when 76 million baby boomers start to retire in force. This lets Bush sidestep questions about the insanity of large, permanent tax cuts just as $25 trillion in unfunded promises in Social Security and Medicare start coming due.

Apparently that’s the next guy’s problem.

You’d think these omissions and deceptions would be enough to shock any fair-minded citizen who believes in fiscal prudence. But an elaborate additional charade compounds the fiscal felony.

Call it “The Illusion of Runaway Spending.” Bush would have us believe that his record deficits are a function of congressional spending run amok. Put aside the weird spectacle of a Republican president trying to pin the blame on some generically reckless “Congress,” as if today’s GOP majorities didn’t march in lockstep to the White House’s tune. The broader truth is that spending today is lower than under previous presidents when you look at the relevant big-picture measures.

From 1980 to 2003, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out, federal spending averaged 21.3 percent of GDP. (It averaged 22 percent under Presidents Reagan and Bush I and 20 percent under President Clinton.) George W. Bush’s plan calls for federal spending of 20 percent of GDP in 2004.

It may come as news to the president and his bean counters, but 20 is less than 21 or 22.

No, Bush’s record deficits have unambiguously been caused by historic drops in the level of federal revenue even as spending levels remain below those of the last 25 years.

From 1980 to 2003, revenue averaged 18.5 percent of GDP. In 2004 it will be 15.8 percent of GDP. This is the lowest level since 1950 – before Social Security had been phased in for most seniors, and before Medicare and Medicaid were enacted.

The runaway spending myth doesn’t stop there. The president says that the “discretionary” part of the domestic budget – the portion that is appropriated annually by Congress, as opposed to “entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare – is out of control and must be restrained.

But this claim is grossly misleading because this “discretionary” measure includes increases for homeland security that have bipartisan support.

As a new analysis by my colleagues at the Center for American Progress shows, spending on non-security domestic programs – the relevant measure – has remained essentially flat as a share of GDP since 1995.

The GOP is betting that fights over the size of government will play out the same whether taxes are at 16 percent of GDP or 19 percent. Their theory: You can always brand liberals “tax hikers” and carry the day.

In the “he said, she said” world of modern media coverage, they may be right.

But the difference in where the debate starts – taxes at 16 percent, or taxes at 19 percent of GDP – comes to about $300 billion a year in federal activities that most Americans want, which is why neither party cuts them. And that’s before we do anything about such domestic needs as the 44 million uninsured or properly funding the boomers’ retirement.

The stakes of exposing Bush’s budget scams are thus enormous. Luckily, since just a few simple relationships can be used to teach citizens the big picture (“20 is less than 22,” for example, and “16 is less than 19”), even a mathematically challenged press doesn’t have to be a party to the con.


Matthew Miller, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, is the author of The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America’s Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love. His website: mattmilleronline.com.

While we’re on this topic (thanks, Matt), here are some of the 65 programs the President proposes trimming a bit (SOURCE: White House Office of Management and Budget):

* Comprehensive School Reform grants for low-income schools. 2004: $234 million; 2005: 0.

* Eisenhower Math and Science Education Programs. 2004: $20 million; 2005: 0.

* Even Start family literacy. 2004: $247 million; 2005: 0.

* Education Department Parental Information and Resource Centers. 2004: $42 million; 2005: 0.

* Community Development Block Grants. 2004: $334 million; 2005: 0.

* School Alcohol Abuse Reduction. 2004: $30 million; 2005: 0.

* Arts in Education grants. 2004: $35 million; 2005: 0.

* HOPE VI public housing revitalization. 2004: $149 million; 2005: 0.

* Local Law Enforcement Grants. 2004: $1.58 billion; 2005: 0.

* Juvenile crime prevention block grants. 2004: $59 million; 2005: 0.

* Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Training. 2004: $77 million; 2005: 0.

* Smaller Learning Communities to divide large high schools into smaller ones. 2004: $174 million; 2005: 0.

* Health Professional Training Grants. 2004: $409 million; 2005: $126 million.

* Rural Health Aid. 2004: $147 million; 2005: $56 million.

* Homeland Security first responders. 2004: $4.37 billion; 2005: $3.56 billion.

* Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Program. 2004: $78 million; 2005: $44 million.

* Advanced Technology Program, which supports high-risk technology development with the private sector. 2004: $171 million; 2005: 0.

Listen: you can’t do everything, especially when you’ve cut taxes so dramatically for the rich.

And look at this! Again I’ve run out of time.

Tomorrow, I promise: ‘What Do You MEAN, ‘I Don’t Pay Taxes?!”


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