Bush's budget cuts would fall near Main Street
From fewer Head Start programs to outdated police gear, the proposed federal budget calls for spending cuts close to home.
Chief Joseph Estey in Hartford, Vt., won't be replacing the 15-year-old guns worn by his officers or buying new digital cameras for his police cruisers.Skip to next paragraph
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In New York, the Head Start program on the Upper West Side may have to start laying off staff members and eliminate the program for children with special needs.
In Seattle, the fire department, already constrained by a tight city budget, won't be getting federal funding to put more firefighters on each truck as it had hoped.
More than at any time in the four years of the Bush administration, Main Street will be feeling the impact of the federal budget if the president's spending plan is adopted.
From Altoona, Pa., where Amtrak stops, to the nation's congested airports, Americans could be looking at changes that will affect their everyday lives - everything from after-school programs to cotton harvests - as a result of bigger-than-normal cutbacks.
The Bush administration, for its part, argues that the reductions are needed to help keep the federal deficit - which, by its own estimate, will still hit a record $427 billion in fiscal 2005 - in check, while freeing up enough money to boost Pentagon spending and other select initiatives. Since almost 85 percent of the budget represents such items as interest on the debt, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, the bulk of the cuts are coming in domestic programs.
The White House, of course, won't get all, or even many, of the cuts it wants, if history is any guide. Nonetheless, the proposed budget, as a starting point, is stirring concern in precinct houses and principals' offices across the country as another great lobbying war gears up over the nation's checkbook.
"If the cuts are put into place, the pain will be spread more broadly than in the past," says Stan Collender, an expert on the federal budget. "But I am sure they will not stand up."
In fact, many Americans would be right in feeling as if they were watching a television rerun. The president in past years has proposed budget cuts only to see Congress fund the programs anyway after intense pressure from groups facing the ax.
"This is a little like doing business in an Arab souk in Istanbul," says Bill Frenzel, a former Republican congressman, now at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "The President makes the first offer, they sip a little tea and make a counteroffer, then everyone goes for a walk before there are other counteroffers."
Yet this year is somewhat different because the president's economic advisers have warned him that the spiraling deficits may have ramifications for the US dollar and interest rates. "He's not really been tough about the budget, but now he is," says Mr. Frenzel. "Like Reagan in 1981, he's trying to get Congress to slow down the rate of increase."
Many of the 150 programs scheduled for elimination by the administration have been to the brink before. That's the case with Amtrak, which under the president's proposal would lose its $1.2 billion in subsidy.
In 2003, the Bush administration budgeted $521 million for Amtrak and, last year, increased that amount to $900 million, half of what the company requested. Congress increased the subsidy to $1.2 billion on both occasions.
For Altoona, Pa., a mountain town where many residents travel by train to Pittsburgh, the subsidy is watched closely."It [the budget proposal] is not going to do us any good," says Mark Geis, a city council member. "[We're] a train town."