An Honest Budget Debate

Coming from elite college newspapers, it is not all that surprising to hear criticism of President George W. Bush. When President Bush released his budget last week, some were quick to denounce it as irresponsible. In fact, the only real irresponsibility lies in this misleading claim. Everyone has a right to disagree with a president, but before making any judgments we must make sure to have done our homework.

President Bush’s budget calls for a 9 percent increase in discretionary spending. The $2.13 trillion requested overall is over $250 billion more than President Bill Clinton ever spent. The budget provides a $48 billion increase to help our military eradicate terrorist groups of global reach. It devotes $38 billion to improve homeland security, virtually doubling the amount spent this year. Furthermore, it sets aside over $80 billion this year to stimulate our economy. While there have been signs of recovery, our President is not content to sit and wait while thousands are jobless.

As part of President Bush’s plan to revitalize the economy, tax relief is extended to all workers—not just the wealthy, as some erroneously claim. Low-income Americans already enjoy a new 10 percent tax bracket, which replaced the 15 percent bracket Jan. 1. A family of four earning $30,000 will save nearly $1,000 per year thanks to the bipartisan tax relief act President Bush signed last June. In fact, under the tax relief act, the rich will actually pay a larger share of total federal taxes than before.

The logic of reducing taxes during a recession is simple: with the economy underproducing, lower tax rates put more dollars back in the pockets of taxpayers at exactly the time they need it. No wonder economist Brian Wesbury said last year’s tax relief, “could very well be the best-timed tax cut in history.” Due to it, the current recession will likely be the smallest and shortest in the last 50 years. Along with tax cuts, President Bush has proposed immediate assistance to laid-off workers, extending unemployment benefits and helping the unemployed retain their health insurance. Some overlook this important element of his plan.

Despite increases in defense and security spending, President Bush’s budget reins in domestic expenditures. President Franklin Roosevelt, Class of 1904, showed us that this is a prudent course in a time of war. Between 1942 and 1944, non-war spending was cut more than 20 percent. President Truman went further, reducing non-defense spending 28 percent in one year during the Korean War. Without the need for full mobilization, non-war and non-security expenditures will increase next year, though only at a modest 2 percent. The dismal fiscal and economic environment that followed the Vietnam War should be enough to alert anyone to the dangers of loading up on guns and butter.


Still, President Bush’s budget proposes large levels of spending for lower-income Americans. Some examples: tax credits of $89 billion over 10 years to subsidize up to 90 percent of the health insurance of lower- and middle-income Americans; restoring the eligibility of legal immigrants to food stamps; providing a $1 billion increase in education to help low-income students meet rigorous new reading and math standards. At the same time, corporate subsidies such as loan guarantees for wealthy shipbuilders and steel manufacturers are reduced or eliminated throughout the budget.

President Bush’s budget attempts to do more than simply spend greater sums on low-income Americans. It endeavors to provide them—and all Americans—with better services. This budget takes the unprecedented step of linking program performance to spending levels. Unbeknownst to most Americans, billions are wasted each year on programs that fail to achieve their stated goals. Until now, no serious attempts have been made to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on programs that deliver maximum benefits to the American people. This year’s budget begins this long-overdue reform.

The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which provides food and prenatal services to low-income mothers and their babies, will see its funding rise to $4.8 billion. Research has shown that WIC lowers health care costs for low-income children. What’s more, over the last decade WIC has been able to serve an additional two million individuals without any extra cost to taxpayers by offering infant formula manufacturers exclusive rights to its market in return for discounted prices. The 8 percent increase that President Bush is proposing for WIC will allow the program to serve all eligible persons who seek its services.

In a staff editorial last week, The Crimson made a point of criticizing the Bush Administration for trimming job-training programs. In reality, the budget shifts money from specific job-training programs that have done little to train workers to those that demonstrably work. Altogether, President Bush proposes to spend up to $9.3 billion on federal job training and other dislocated worker services, a 36 percent increase over what will be spent this year. Job Corps, a program with a successful record of training disadvantaged youths for jobs, would see its budget grow by $1.5 billion.

The budget is a large and well thought-out document that takes months to prepare. It was put together by more than 500 career and political staffers in the White House Office of Management and Budget. As future leaders, it is your duty to make judgments based on in-depth knowledge. A close look will show you that President Bush’s budget was not only responsible—it also strikes the right balance for defeating terrorism, protecting Americans and returning to surpluses.

Now that you have some facts, let the honest debate begin.

James A. Waters ’01 works in the Director’s Office of the White House Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C.