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Congressional critics of the President’s $2.23 trillion budget proposal have narrowly focused their complaints on tax cuts and budget deficits. Have they forgotten that under our system of government the president proposes a budget and the Congress appropriates? Have they forgotten that the president has proposed the largest federal budget in history? If they do not like the size of the budget deficit, why don’t they start with trimming some of the excess spending in the president’s budget?
The president proposed spending $74 billion for farm programs – most of it to fund the misguided 2002 farm bill. That legislation boosted farm subsidies to record levels and made the pursuit of trade agreements extremely problematic. Congress could revisit that mistake, save significant resources and give the United States needed credibility to pursue free trade agreements that would increase jobs in this country.
The Commerce Department receives a 5.2 percent increase under the Bush budget, almost all of it for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We all want improved weather forecasting, but given all of our priorities, this looks like a place where Congress can exercise some needed oversight – especially since on closer inspection much of the increase actually goes towards “fisheries.”
The Defense Department should not be off limits to responsible congressional oversight. The War on Terrorism needs significant funding, but when budgets are increased this rapidly the potential for sheer waste is enormous. During World War II a little known senator from Missouri investigated war profiteering and not only saved taxpayers money, he also helped get resources to where they were needed. His name was Harry Truman.
The Department of Education receives $53.1 billion – an increase of 5.6 percent. $53 billion represents an awfully large amount of money for the federal government to spend on what is overwhelmingly a state and local responsibility. While the No Child Left Behind legislation has a laudable goal of accountability, the fundamental lack of choice and competition means this legislation ultimately will not work. Congress could save resources and improve performance by building on the president’s modest proposal to fund school vouchers in the District of Columbia. This is a more compassionate, cost-effective model of education reform.
While Congress continues to stall on domestic energy security legislation, the president’s budget calls for 6 percent increase for the Energy Department. The first step Congress should take before devoting more federal spending is to open up ANWR to drilling for natural gas and oil. That would increase our domestic energy supplies, make us less dependent on foreign imports from unstable regions – and not cost taxpayers any money.
At the Department of Health and Human Services, Congress can save taxpayers billions over the next decade by resisting the temptation to put a prescription drug plan in place BEFORE fundamental Medicare reform is completed. The Bush plan offers a $6 billion “down payment” on prescription drugs. The real danger is this program will grow and become an expensive add-on to a broken system. Step one must be Medicare reform, and only then should Congress make a reasonable prescription plan a component of that restructuring effort.
Make no mistake. While the president’s budget is not perfect, he put forward a bold plan that, compared to previous years, shows significant fiscal restraint. Congress could – and unfortunately most likely will – do much worse than to pass the president’s budget. But the point is the criticism the Bush budget has received thus far demonstrates and unwillingness of members of Congress to do their job. They are in charge of the purse strings.
Before attacking the idea of cutting taxes during a period of slow economic growth, perhaps Congress should start by focusing on cutting federal spending. A $2.3 trillion budget provides plenty of opportunities for Congress to demonstrate their fiscal responsibility – and still deliver much needed tax relief to working Americans.