The Agenda Behind Bush’s Budget | FEMA’s Fault? | Minority Report

Monetary Madness—Days before the Bush administration unveiled its 2007 budget, the House of Representatives approved a bill mandating over $40 billion in spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, student loans and numerous other social programs. It was a squeaker, passing by 216 to 214, only after Dick Cheney returned from the Middle East to break a stalemate in the Senate. The protests of Democrats and moderate Republicans, who claimed that Congress was hurting the poor to pave the way for future tax cuts for the rich, would soon prove prophetic.

Though non-binding, the administration’s massive budget provides a clear road map for legislative action: boost defense spending, cut taxes and slash social services. The Pentagon’s budget officially increases to $439 billion, the highest level since World War II and 45 percent greater than when Bush took office five years ago. When the defense needs of other agencies plus the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2007 are taken into account, the figure leaps to $580 billion. The costs include $10.4 billion for a missile defense system that fails every test and $2.6 billion for yet another nuclear-powered attack submarine, of which the Navy already possesses a generous 60.

But the soaring costs of permanent militarism look meager when compared with the administration’s proposed tax cuts, set to rob the Treasury of $1.35 trillion in revenue over the next decade. Add in George Bush’s new plan for health savings accounts, which actually increases the number of uninsured persons, and the price tag climbs to $1.5 trillion. To satisfy the GOP’s ill-conceived plan for slowing the growth of the deficit, Bush worked out a convenient agreement with Republicans in Congress. “Under Bush’s plan, Congress would not treat an extension of the tax cuts as having any cost,” the New York Times reported.

Needless to say, Bush’s promise to cut the deficit in half ignores the cost of fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; rebuilding New Orleans. Additionally, there are the costs of curbing the Alternative Minimum Tax; and covering the growth in Medicare and Social Security expenses. In fact, despite eliminating or cutting 141 domestic programs—ranging from farm conservation to low-income heating aid to community block grants—the deficit will increase next year. Former Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling joked that the administration was behaving like someone who leases three Hummers and then complains they can’t afford to buy peanut butter. But this budget, for all its absurdity and unpopularity at the time of an election year in Congress, is no laughing matter.

Blame Game—In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there wasn’t a more hapless figure than former FEMA director Mike “Heckuva job” Brown. “You have been selected as the designated scapegoat,” Senator Frank Lautenberg informed Brown before he testified in front of the Senate in early February. Much to everyone’s surprise, Brown went on the offensive, aggressively criticizing the White House and Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff for their single-minded focus on terrorism. If a terrorist had “blown up the 17th Street Canal levee, then everybody would have jumped all over that,” he said. When Chertoff himself testified before the Senate a few days later, the blame game was being played heartily. “If I had known then what I know now about Mr. Brown’s agenda, I would have done something differently,” Chertoff claimed.

Days later, a House investigative committee released a scathing 520-page report analyzing the response to Katrina, that blamed nearly everyone, at all levels of state and local government. Chertoff, the report said, acted “late, ineffectively or not at all.” Brown, it maintained, was “a symbol of all that went wrong.” The government’s performance could only be described as “a litany of mistakes, misjudgments, lapses and absurdities all cascading together, blinding us to what was coming and hobbling any effort to respond.”

Eyes on the Prize—A recent cover story in the nonpartisan Washington weekly the National Journal imagines what would happen if the Democrats were to retake one or both houses of Congress in November. Investigations into everything from Plamegate to “Plan B” emergency contraceptive would be initiated, potentially culminating in the impeachment of George and Dick at the top. To get there, however, Democrats need to pick up six seats in the Senate and fifteen in the House. Not impossible. Recent opinion polls show that voters favor “any Democrat” for a seat in Congress over “any Republican” by roughly ten percentage points.