This year’s battle over Iraq war funding officially kicked off Wednesday as Defense Secretary Robert Gates reluctantly offered a price tag for the first time: $170 billion for fiscal 2009.
Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gates only gave the number after Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pressed him, but rejected his own estimate right off the bat, calling it a number that “will inevitably be wrong, and perhaps significantly so.”
“I will be giving you precision without accuracy,” warned Gates.
Levin insisted that he give his best estimate for next year’s war-funding needs.
“Well, a straight-line projection, Mr. Chairman, of our current expenditures would probably put the full-year cost, in a strictly arithmetic approach, at about $170 billion,” Gates responded.
Of course, Gates made clear that the number could be wrong; and I’m guessing he didn’t mean wrong as in an overestimate. But the Administration is very conscious of the drain on our federal budget. Not the drain from the war, mind you, the other drain. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Bush wants to do something about it. Like slash and burn. You know- the low priority stuff.
President Bush plans to unveil a $2.5 trillion budget today eliminating dozens of politically sensitive domestic programs, including funding for education, environmental protection and business development, while proposing significant increases for the military and international spending, according to White House documents.
Overall, discretionary spending other than defense and homeland security would fall by nearly 1 percent, the first time in many years that funding for the major part of the budget controlled by Congress would actually go down in real terms, according to officials with access to the budget. The cuts are scattered across a wide swath of the government, affecting a cross-section of constituents, from migrant workers to train passengers to local police departments, according to officials who read portions of the documents to The Washington Post.
And one very important person is already on board.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I hope we in Congress will have the courage to support it.”
I’ve already written about Bush’s long-term plan to cut Medicare by $178 billion, and here are some actual numbers for the new planned cuts:
On the domestic side, according to documents, the budget would consolidate 18 community development block grant programs into one Commerce Department program for a savings of $1.8 billion. It would slice law enforcement grants to states from $2.8 billion to $1.5 billion. And it would cut 48 education programs totaling $4.3 billion, including $2.2 billion for high school programs, mostly state grants for vocational education.
The budget would cut $440 million in Safe and Drug-Free School grants, $500 million in education technology state grants, $225 million for the Even Start literacy program, $280 million for Upward Bound programs for inner-city youths and a $150 million talent research program, according to the documents.
The budget includes no subsidy for Amtrak and would eliminate $20 million for the next generation of high-speed rail and $250 million for railroad rehabilitation. Several Energy Department programs would be eliminated, as would $100 million in grants for land and water conservation. The budget proposal would cut $94 million in grants for the Healthy Communities Access Program and phase out rural health grants, the documents said. Bush touted his commitment to such programs during his reelection campaign. The president would terminate the Community Food and Nutrition Program, and cut a migrant and seasonal farm worker training program. He would renew his effort to cut a $143 million program for the removal of severely distressed housing.
Trivial programs, all. And costing but a drop in the bucket, compared to the war. It’s a question of priorities: help people, or kill them.