Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bush's Final Budget

Bush's Final Budget. Sorry for repeating myself, but that sounded so delectable...

OK, so here it is: Bush's budget proposal for this final year of his circus administration:
President Bush’s final budget, a $3 trillion plan offered Monday that would continue his tax cuts and sharply reduce domestic spending, has little chance of surviving in a Democratic Congress. But the problems it lays out will survive and grow, presenting tough choices for the next administration.

How, for example, will the next president rein in the cost of retirement and health programs? What will he or she do about tax increases on Americans when Mr. Bush’s tax cuts expire at the end of 2010, or when the alternative minimum tax propels millions of taxpayers into higher brackets each year?

Beyond these familiar traps, how will a Republican president pay for further promised tax cuts or a Democratic president pay for a sweeping health care overhaul without increasing the red ink left by Mr. Bush?

Three trillion. By his own estimates, Bush projects a $470 billion deficit, which is higher than anything recorded previously, and that's before Iraq invasion spending!

This is a serious constraint that the next President will have to deal with. Even tho spending for the Iraq invasion is off-budget, so not reflected here, ending the invasion as soon as possible becomes imperative, because many of the incidental costs of that conflict are reflected in the departmental budget requests of agencies and cabinet offices as diverse as the Pentagon right down to the Department of the Interior (National Guardsmen have to be reimbursed from *somewhere* when they respond to disasters).

Fortunately, it's not as bad as Bush's budget paints. Bush has long had a reputation for being Chicken Little (if not just plain chicken) about a lot of things, trying to literally scare up support for dicey propositions and bizarre programs that conflict directly with national security, much less any rational modality of governance.

Discretionary spending, that is, non-military and non-mandated spending (which excludes Social Security) is less than three percent of the budget, which means we can't cut the education, welfare, and public works budgets any tighter than we already have. That means one of two places for the money to come from: Social Security or defense.

Assuming Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama end up president, you tell me: which gets slashed?

If you said defense, that's the right answer. And wrong answer. Wrong answer, since I have an idea that might help refresh the military, offer opportunity to working class Americans, and right a faltering economy before it's too late.

A few days ago, I off-handedly proposed as part of my NotPresident noncampaign, a real stimulus package that would help the American economy while de-militarizing our presence in the Middle East. In that package, I mentioned that we could take the savings from the Iraq invasion forces and put them to use here at home, rebuilding and mending and upgrading the infrastructure in America.

I have an additional thought: energy independence. Yesterday, as a one-off, I said that a good idea for creating a new economy based on renewable energy would be to offer a billion dollar prize.

Guess what institution would be offering that prize? If you guessed the Pentagon, you'd be right. Why the Pentagon? Why not the DoEnergy?

Accountability, for one thing: the Pentagon regularly handles budgets of this size and has in place a responsibility infrastructure that would have to be built into the Department of Energy.

More important, tho, is that the first applications of renewable energy in the real world would be defense-related, so we might as well let them perfect the technology before awarding the prize. After all, is there a better testing ground for the efficiencies of scale, redundancies and safeguards than in the chaos of even test battlefields?

I doubt it.

By combining the energy prize (maybe I'd call it the Gore Award) with the defense budget, we'd pretty much ensure that no Republican might come along to gut the budget for it. The Joint Chiefs of Staff would welcome the job security, and the companies who would be applying for the competition could remain assured that politic donations and lobbying would have nearly zero influence on the outcome.

And we'd be beating plowshares into swords.

Would this solve our immediate economic problems? Probably not, but it might and it would ensure that $100 a barrel increases in the price oil would never trouble us again. People would have jobs, and those jobs would carry over to the new renewable energy companies that would spring up as this technology is leased for components, software, and engineering into new products.

Too, we'd create a viable, if not thriving, economy of companies that would be greening the infrastructure that the current energy economy has in place: reforesting mountaintop removal coal mines, cleaning up crude refinery sites, finding new uses for natural gas pipelines, and such like that.

Budget deficits represent challenges, but they also represent opportunities to change wasteful and irrational ways of the past, ways that have failed us now, and to move in a direction that makes sense for us and our children and grandchildren.

And we would hardly have to tinker with tax rates, and we'd take tax cuts off the table for decades.