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Squeezing the Poor for Votes
NY Times, Editorials/Op-Ed, February 18, 2004

Destructive fine print is showing through the budgetary bandwagon President Bush has designed for his re-election drive. It turns out that hundreds of thousands of poor and low-income families will lose child care and housing assistance if the administration's ballyhooed spending cuts take effect. In trying to campaign as a late-blooming fiscal disciplinarian, the president is making a show of marking 128 programs — count 'em, G.O.P. budget hawks, 128 — for elimination or cutbacks in many vital social service areas. As if they are at the heart of the administration's rolling deficits, which threaten the nation's economic future.

The savings from the draconian budget theatrics would total no more than $4.9 billion. This is less than 1 percent of the record $521 billion deficit Mr. Bush helped create with tax cuts weighted toward the affluent (whose top 1 percent will net a $45 billion boon in this year alone). The real costs of such shabby budget politics would affect programs like housing vouchers. These would be cut $1.7 billion below what's needed to maintain the two million people getting help. Depending on localities' responses, this cut could mean the denial of vouchers to 250,000 of the impoverished, elderly and disabled. [our emphasis]

Likewise, after all the bipartisan dedication to steering people from welfare to workfare, the White House would demonstrate election-year toughness by cutting child care aid for the working poor, who need it most. The proposed cuts would mean a minimal drop of 200,000, and probably 365,000, in the number of children receiving child care aid in the next five years. In cutting these indispensable programs, Mr. Bush is trying to tell voters that down is up — that the deficit problem is rooted on the ledger's spending side, not the revenue side, which he has systematically choked by trillions across the decade. Government data actually indicates that spending as a share of the economy has not rocketed and remains relatively low, while the Bush tax cuts increasingly drive the grim deficit outlook.

Congress should be the first to recognize and dismiss the president's budget as an arrant campaign pamphlet. It would leave profligate Republicans picking on the poor in a desperate attempt to stand for fiscal responsibility.

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