Nov 102005

House conservatives are currently debating a budget bill that cuts federal programs by $54 billion over five years, and would drastically affect services for mostly poorer Americans. "The cuts would impose new costs on Medicaid beneficiaries, cut assistance for child support enforcement, trim student loan spending, cut back agriculture supports, and curb eligibility for food stamps." The Senate has already passed a $35 billion budget bill that cuts many of the same programs. The New York Times writes that the House’s budget package is "so over-the-top in its inequities and giveaways that embarrassed moderates are actually rebelling, withholding support unless some of the more outrageous measures – like despoiling the Alaska wildlife refuge with oil drilling – are killed." President Bush says the budget cuts are necessitated by a need to "reduce our deficit," but in fact the cuts will go elsewhere: conservatives are now rolling out a new tax cut package for the wealthy that will be sure to eliminate any savings resulting  from budget reconciliation.

CUTS TO MEDICAID/MEDICARE: The House bill plans to cut $12 billion in Medicaid access and benefits for the poor. "The Medicaid provisions would allow state governments to impose co-payments even on the poorest beneficiaries for emergency room visits for non-emergency health problems and for drug prescriptions not on a list of preferred treatments." To avoid such painful cuts to Medicaid, the Senate bill saved money by removing a provision that gives $5.4 billion to drug companies to encourage them to offer prescription drug coverage under the new Medicare benefit plan. The White House has threatened to veto a bill that includes this so-called "stabilization fund." The New York Times calls the fund "a windfall gimmick" that should be cut to spare Medicaid.

CUTS TO FOOD STAMPS: The House bill is expected to make substantial cuts to the food stamp program at a time when hurricane survivors in South Florida are lining up to receive the much-needed benefits. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the House bill "would cut food stamp benefits by about $45 a month for 225,000 people and that 40,000 children would lose their eligibility for free meals at school. About 70,000 legal aliens would no longer qualify for food stamps." House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO) has claimed that these cuts would have a "very small overall impact."

CUTS TO CHILD CARE ENFORCEMENT: Buried in the House bill are cuts that could strip funding from state child care enforcement budgets. Arizona groups are warning that the bill, "if passed, it could mean a $59 million cut for the state’s child-support enforcement over the next five years and a $10 million to $12 million reduction for the state’s Child Protective Services." California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) also criticized the "proposed reduction in federal reimbursement to states for child support enforcement from 66 percent to 50 percent." The funding cuts would reduce the ability of states to collect payments from deadbeat parents, among other provisions. 

TAKING WITH ONE HAND AND GIVING WITH THE OTHER: After passing $35 billion in budget cuts for the nominal purpose of reducing the deficit, conservatives are now separately unveiling "$70 billion in tax cuts." In the face of $35 billion worth of cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, and child care enforcement, conservatives are seeking to "extend several of Mr. Bush’s biggest tax cuts, including those on stock dividends and capital gains" — over half of the benefits from those cuts benefit people earning over $1million per year. "The administration and Congressional leaders arranged to separate votes on the two halves of the budget to obscure the full picture" of the impact on the deficit.

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