Sep 032004

As I’m sure you know, I can’t let the Bush speech at the RNC go without mention here. While George claimed it was going to be “43 minutes of sheer wisdom,” (a pretty arrogant thing to say about yourself) it was nothing more than a bunch of happy talk (including that smartassed smirk of his), and a bunch of warmed-over and still ill-conceived initiatives.

I think the most telling thing were the items not addressed-a comprehensive overhaul of Social Security and Medicare, a reining in of federal spending, a reshaping of immigration law. None of these got a mention.

Bush pledged to “double the number of people served by our principal job training program.” That is a nice idea, but he has spent the last four years cutting funding for job training programs. His 2005 budget, for example, proposed to cut job training and vocational education by 10 percent that’s $656 million from what Congress pledged to those programs in 2002.

Bush also promised to increase funding for community colleges. But he was for cutting funding for community colleges before he was for increasing it. Last year, the Bush administration proposed cutting the largest direct aid initiative to community colleges, the Perkins program for technical and vocational training, from $1.3 billion to about $1 billion. Congress had to step in to save the funding.

Bush pledged to “strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account.” What he didn’t mention: establishing the privatization scheme could cost $1 trillion or more over the next decade, expanding already record federal deficits. Administrative costs could consume up to 40 percent of the funds placed in private accounts. And, since returns in the stock market vary, many retirees would do quite poorly. Bush may realize this is a bad idea. He proposed the exact same thing in his last acceptance speech, but during four years in office with a Republican Congress, nothing has been done. For more the hazards of Social Security privatization read this new American Progress column.

Bush also plans, if reelected, to “offer a tax credit to encourage small businesses and their employees to set up health savings accounts, and provide direct help for low-income Americans to purchase them.” What he didn’t mention: HSAs will likely drive up the annual deductibles paid by workers. And because of their adverse effects on employer-based coverage, HSAs could swell the ranks of the uninsured.

In another nod to business interests, the president reiterated his proposal to “change outdated labor laws to offer comp-time and flex-time.” But while the proposals have attractive sounding names, they actually open the door for employers to pressure workers to “accept time off instead of overtime pay.” Even absent explicit pressure, employers would be free to “channel overtime work to those who were willing to take comp-time.” Moreover, “employees would have to take their earned time off when it suits their employer rather than when it suited the employee.” Bottom line: no one is against giving workers more flexibility to take vacations, but when an hourly worker exceeds 40 hours in a week, he or she should receive overtime.

As expected, the president renewed his calls to make his tax cuts for the wealthy permanent. But making the tax cuts permanent would be of great benefit to only very high-income households. Estimates based on data from the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center show that if the tax cuts are made permanent, the top 1 percent of households will gain an average of $58,200 a year (in 2004 dollars) when the tax cuts are fully in effect, reflecting a 7.3 percent change in their after-tax income. By contrast, people in the middle of the income spectrum would secure just a 2.5 percent increase in their after-tax income, with average tax cuts of $655 ? a little more than one-ninetieth of what those in the top 1 percent would receive. Moreover, making the tax cuts permanent would swell the deficit and could destabilize the world economy. It would cost $2.2 trillion over the next 10 years, forcing Americans to give up important domestic programs or add to the $374 billion annual deficit. A report by the IMF said the U.S. deficit has already gotten so out of control, it could threaten the stability of the world economy.

President Bush last night made many claims about his national security record ? many directly contradicted by the facts. In an effort to turn his inflexible and ideologically driven foreign policy into a political asset, the president sugarcoated his record to claim “America and the world are safer” because of his leadership. But both experts and the record show that is not true. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in July that “I cannot say the world is safer today than it was two, three years ago.” According to Bush’s own State Department, the number of significant terrorist attacks last year reached a 21-year high. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are still not captured, as the Bush administration shifted special forces off the hunt for al Qaeda in Afghanistan and into Iraq. The International Institute for Strategic Studies says that al Qaeda has taken advantage of the U.S. invasion in Iraq and grown to 18,000 potential operatives in more than 60 countries.

President Bush claimed, “we have tripled funding for homeland security and trained a half a million first responders.” What he did not say was that independent, nonpartisan experts agree that he has dangerously underfunded homeland security and the nation’s first responders. A task force headed by former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-NH) found that “the United States remains dangerously ill-prepared to handle a catastrophic attack on American soil.” It specifically said the Bush budgets would leave a $98.4 billion funding gap for first responders over the next five years ? a finding the Rand Corporation essentially seconded. This year, the president is proposing to slash more than $600 million (14 percent) from first responder funding. Similarly, the Bush administration has allocated less than $500 million for port security, even though the Coast Guard estimates that $7.5 billion is needed in the next decade.

Bush promised last night that “the Taliban are history.” But according to the Wall Street Journal, that’s not true: “Two-and-a-half years since the Taliban abandoned Afghanistan’s major cities, the war here goes on” in the vast rural areas. Taliban leaders have vowed to derail elections in the country. Over the last year, some 50 Westerners and 1,000 Afghans have been killed in fighting with Taliban forces. The threat has become so dangerous that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was forced to admit he “is seeking the support of former Taliban officials” to stabilize the country.

Bush read part of a letter about Iraq that he attributed only to an “Army specialist.” That specialist doubles as a scholar at the National Center for Public Policy Research ? a far right-wing organization funded by extremists like the Richard Mellon Scaife family.

I have to love what the Editorial Board of the Boston Globe had to say about it. “”Few would doubt President Bush’s intention to stay the course in a second term, What is at issue, however, is not his resolve but the path itself.” I think that about sums it up.

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