[Homestead] You can't see the poor from White House windows

tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Mon Feb 7 21:49:56 EST 2005

Remember the Poor

Monday, February 7, 2005; Page A20

BETWEEN 2000 and 2003, the number of people living in poverty rose 14 
percent. In 2003, the most recent year for which numbers are available, 
one out of every eight Americans was poor, a disproportionate number of 
them children. The number without health insurance was the highest on 
record; more Americans went hungry. The poorest fell further below the 
poverty line while the richest took home a greater share of national 
income than ever.

We recite these depressing numbers today, as President Bush prepares to 
unveil his fiscal 2006 budget, because budgets are not only dry, 
fact-choked documents but a measure of the national character. These are 
the budgetary times that try the nation's soul: tax cuts that have 
drained the available revenue; a deficit that demands austerity; a war 
on terrorism, at home and abroad, that requires resources to keep the 
country safe. In the face of this unhappy fiscal reality, the risk is 
that the budget ax will fall most heavily on the poorest and most 
vulnerable Americans, those with the greatest need for government help 
but the smallest voice in the corridors of power.

This is not an idle worry. Tax increases -- more accurately, undoing the 
reckless tax cuts that account for a good portion of the current 
constraints -- are, unfortunately, off the political table. What scant 
room there is for increased spending is to be consumed largely by 
defense and homeland security costs: Mr. Bush's new budget will seek 
$419 billion in defense spending, up 4.8 percent, and this amount does 
not include funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As much as 
we think the president's pledge to cut the deficit in half in five years 
is a sham -- an inadequate target achieved by misleading budgeting -- 
the cuts will have to come from somewhere if he is to even pretend to 
achieve that goal.

Reports that Mr. Bush will propose cuts in agricultural subsidies are 
terrific news, but any attempt at rollback is guaranteed to meet fierce 
resistance on Capitol Hill. It's fine that he wants to slash other 
wasteful spending, but last year's record on this front (the president 
targeted 65 programs for a savings of $5 billion; he ended up with five 
gone and a paltry $292 million savings) isn't inspiring.

All this leaves programs for poor Americans -- housing vouchers, home 
heating aid and food stamps, among others -- potentially exposed to 
troubling cuts. Medicaid, whose costs have been growing sharply along 
with health care costs in general, is slated for a cut of at least $44 
billion over 10 years, shifting more costs to states and risking leaving 
more Americans with no insurance or inadequate coverage.

No program is sacrosanct, and no waste should be tolerated in any 
program. But a key test for lawmakers as the budget-writing process 
proceeds will be how the neediest are treated -- not whether they are 
lavished with government assistance but whether they endure a cruelly 
disproportionate share of the cuts that are to come.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

7:06 AM 2/7/2005

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