OK, Obama just answered my main question: is he willing to put his money
where his mouth is?
I've been looking at his budget proposal over the past few days with a
sense of wonderment. It's a seminal document, as nation-altering as the
“tax revolt” of the late 70s was, the one that led to Reagan and the
supply side disaster.
The first number was the startling size of the deficit, roughly four
times the size of any other deficit in the history of the country. (Not
in constant-value dollars, of course: FDR had two that were bigger
during World War II). $1.75 trillion dollars. One millionth of that
would leave me set for life.
It really brings home just how serious the economic meltdown is.
Democrats are normally the ones who reduce deficits and sometimes even
balance the budget. Republicans are the ones who spend like drunken
nymphomaniacs in a sex toy shop. Usually on the military and tax cuts
for the rich.
Part of the deficit comes from the fact that Obama's budget has one of
the biggest tax cuts in the history of the country. If you didn't
already know that, I'm not surprised. The blow dried creatures of the
corporate media, and the stentorian whiners of the right wing, all of
whom make far more than a quarter million a year, are busily howling
about “the biggest tax hike in centuries” that will “destroy what's left
of the economy.” That would be the fact that Obama proposes to let the
Bush cuts on incomes over $250,000 lapse, rather than renewing them.
Those rates would revert to the levels they were at in the mid nineties,
a time of economic boom. It's expected to add $637 billion in revenue,
but that's two years' budget down the line. The tax rates don't lapse
until 2011. With any luck at all, the economy might be in slightly
better shape by then.
However, revenue will drop over all, because the budget includes $900
billion in tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year – the 95%
of the population that doesn't matter to the camera pigeons of CNN and
Faux. That tax cut will happen this year, which, combined with the delay
in the tax hikes, means that the budget for 2010 actually has $900
billion in tax cuts. Got that? So when the media says the budget has
huge tax hikes, they are lying to you, sacrificing what little
journalistic integrity they might have had – and your well being – to
their own interests.
The budget has $663 billion for defense, which is being described as an
8% hike in spending. In reality, it's a cut, because it includes
“supplementals,” which, simply stated, is the cost of the twin
occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. That outlay has been off the books
under the deeply dishonest bookkeeping the Republicans used to hide the
cost of the wars. In this budget, that would be about $140 billion that
would have been otherwise invisible aside from faster than expected
growth in the national debt, already large enough that most people can't
guess what it is within a trillion dollars. A hundred billion or so can
be hidden pretty easily in that mess.
There are a couple of other reasons for the size of the deficit. The
$787 billion bank bailout in the ending days of the Bush administration
has to be factored in—about half of it remains to be spent this year.
And the $820 billion or so in the stimulus package signed last week will
put a dent in the balance, as about a third of it will be spent this year.
I'm told, but haven't verified, that the administration is ending the
deceit of previous administrations, of counting the surplus payments to
the Social Security fund as part of the balance. This year alone, that
would be at least $125 billion that the government can't pretend is
So even though the deficit is a very big, very scary number, it's one
that is pretty much inevitable when you combine trying to jump-start a
moribund economy with some honest accounting.
The budget itself represents a seachange. In 1980, America was the
richest and most powerful country on earth, widely respected and liked,
and if the poverty rate (11.7%) was higher than it should be, it was at
least a generous notion of what poverty was. Few people were hungry.
Then the right wing took over, determined to give the national wealth to
the already rich and intent on breaking the back of labor. The result,
30 years later, is a nation with a poverty rate above 20%, widely
mistrusted and despised, and rich only in the way India is rich, with
the wealth concentrated in a thin scum of wealthy elites atop a heaving
ocean of people barely getting by. And now teetering on the brink of a
catastrophic depression. Gee, thanks, Ronnie.
Obama's budget puts money where it is most desperately needed. A 13%
increase in food aid. A billion more for school lunches. $3.2 billion
more to help people keep their lights on and their heat going. In the
“world's richest country,” millions are going without such necessities.
The Department of Labor, which had basically been the Department of
Employers under Bush, will spend more for worker safety, and to ensure
that workers aren't being cheated on their wages, a practice fairly
widespread these days. I actually had a restaurant manager explain that
having employees work “off the clock” at closing resulted in lower
prices for the customers. Translated: “We cheat the other guy and pass
the savings on to you.” Except in the Bush days of the Entitled Rich,
even that didn't happen; they just simply pocketed what they stole. So
it's time the government cracked down on them.
The budget calls for the government to issue college tuition loans
directly, rather than subsidizing bank loans, a practice that will save
taxpayers and college students billions. With no overhead, such a loan
program would have much lower interest rates. Pell Grants would be
increased, and funding for such things as the successful Head Start
program would be restored. The stimulus package also includes some $115
billion to modernize school buildings and other facilities and equipment.
The budget includes something called a "National Infrastructure Bank"
for funding "priority infrastructure projects of significant national or
regional economic benefit." This is in addition to a billion a year
targeted to building a modern rail system where trains can run at 150
miles an hour. That may not be as sexy as MagLev or the 300 mile an hour
wonders in France and China, but it's affordable, and it's what the
country needs desperately.
I knew the era of the GOP and “America exists to make the rich happy”
had come to an end when I saw that the EPA budget had been increased by
The really big item, of course, is Health Care. America is a third world
country when it comes to medical care, because no matter how fancy the
hospital, it isn't very useful if over half the population can't afford
to use its services. Obama has budgeted $638 billion over the next ten
years toward the establishment of a universal health care system. If he
can keep the insurance companies out of the mix, that would save the
country trillions. And result in a much happier and healthier
population, with less than half the numbers of bankruptcies we see now,
and far fewer preventable early deaths. Costs less, and everyone
benefits. Only a Republican could oppose that.
Obama has also ordered the FDA to start looking into allowing people to
buy prescription drugs overseas at a lower cost. The US has been Big
Pharm's cash cow for a decade now, and it's ruined millions of lives,
foisting expensive and poorly-tested drugs off on us. It's time that ended.
The far right, or what's left of it, will fight all this like hell, and
so will the special interests who have developed a firm belief that they
have a right to steal with both hands.
Obama is in for one hell of a fight. But he says he's ready for one hell
of a fight.
If we're smart, we'll fight alongside him, and return the budget to the
March 3, 2009