Conservative Republicans managed to tighten the belts of the poor by passing a $39.5 billion spending cut that marks the first downsizing since 1997 of so-called social entitlement programs. That would be a lot more palatable if President Bush weren't still pushing so hard to make business tax cuts permanent and if the administration still wasn't spending several times that on the war in Iraq.
As it is, the deficit reduction measure just approved cuts productive programs and further tatters a safety net for the neediest. It trims $4.8 billion from Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, by increasing co-pays and reducing payments for prescription drugs. It cuts $11.9 billion from student loan programs through 2010. It saves $6.4 billion in Medicare spending by imposing higher premiums and freezing payments to home care providers.
While careful spending cuts would be welcome and the growth of many entitlement programs should be limited, the GOP should not cut benefits to the lowest on the economic totem pole at the same time it seeks to enshrine permanently a range of tax breaks that benefit the wealthy. Nor will this decisively derail the path toward mushrooming deficits while an expensive war drains resources.
Consider this: Days after winning the $39.5 billion spending cut, the White House announced it would seek another $70 billion to pay for the military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan through September. The presidential budget submitted Monday includes a $50 billion "placeholder," as did last year's budget, for the war, which cost $120 billion last year and $331 billion since 9/1 1. There won't be any real chance at significant deficit reduction until the troops come marching home.