WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., issued the following statement in response to the release of President Bush’s budget:
Just two years ago, as the strong stewardship of the Clinton-Gore Administration handed our nation’s fiscal future over to him in good health, President Bush promised the American people that we could afford his huge tax cuts and meet the pressing needs of the nation. This budget tells a starkly different and depressing story. In fact, President Bush’s new budget should be written in red ink. In total, $5.6 trillion in projected surpluses have turned into more than $1.5 trillion in projected deficits over the next five years for us and our children-including deficits of more than $300 billion in each of the next two years alone. Those deficits will burn a hole in our pockets and drive up house payments, car payments, college loan payments, and more. And for all that, this budget includes no effective plan or proven tools to stimulate the economy in the short-term or produce the kind of long-term growth we enjoyed in the 1990s.
The sad fact is that the only thing this budget will grow is the national debt. It will close the fiscal straitjacket we are in now even tighter, burying us in IOUs, sapping Social Security of resources, and shortchanging other vital priorities. That’s not a formula for prosperity, it’s a recipe for economic decline. The White House is determined to blame our bleak budget outlook on everything but the President’s policies. But that’s disingenuous at best.
Our growing long-term debt isn’t being caused by the war against terrorism or homeland security needs-or by the slow-growing economy. It is primarily the result of one factor above all else: the President’s irresponsible fiscal management. A reversal of fiscal policies has produced a painful reversal of fortune-and it’s the American people who are paying the price. The bottom line is unequivocal and unavoidable. Priority after priority is being sacrificed at the expense of President Bush’s unfair, unaffordable, and ineffective tax cuts.
Take homeland security. President Bush says we need to invest in improving our domestic defenses without delay. But according to independent experts, the Bush Administration’s investments in critical homeland security priorities are insufficient. The Transportation Security Agency’s budget has been cut by 10 percent from fiscal year 2003 requests-a major shortfall, since the agency has yet to focus on any transportation modes other than passenger aviation. And funding for first responders-who are in desperate need of new resources for salaries, training and equipment-is inadequate. Better security won’t come from wishful thinking or tough talk. It demands a genuine commitment from Washington to make our country safer.
On page after page of this presidential budget, we see the same pattern repeated. After rolling out a fuel cell car initiative in the State of the Union showroom, the President would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by a half billion dollars-and irresponsibly count on more than a billion dollars from opening up the Arctic to oil drilling, which should never and will never happen. After signing landmark education reform legislation, the President proposes the smallest education increase in six years-falling more than $6 billion short of what that very bill said was necessary to help our neediest schools meet higher standards. After touting his Medicare reform plan last week, the budget provides less than half of the money necessary to make even that misguided proposal work.
To be sure, there are some things worth supporting in this budget. For instance, I’m heartened by the large increase in defense spending, which is needed to effectively prosecute the war on terrorism, improve the quality of life of the men and women in our armed forces, and transform our military. But the overall picture is bleak because our overall fiscal outlook is so weak. Fiscal discipline needs to be imposed on both sides of the budget ledger. The nation is at war against terrorism. More than ever, we in Washington have a responsibility to spend carefully, and to limit our increases to vital needs. That’s why I’ve urged the President to freeze the least effective pieces of his tax cut that have yet to go into effect-and redirect the savings into immediate strategic tax cuts for consumers and businesses, sound investments in homeland security, education, and debt reduction.
In the weeks to come, the Bush administration will no doubt highlight a few politically palatable investments made in this budget-and hope that the American people fail to see the bigger picture. But the President isn’t just underfunding our critical priorities. He’s underestimating the ability of the American people to see through the fog of White House marketing-that this is not a budget that upholds our fundamental values or serves the national interest.