President Bush sent a budget proposal to Congress on Monday that Senator Bernie Sanders called "unconscionable." Among the grossly distorted priorities, Bush would cut $196 billion over five years in Medicare and Medicaid. He also would slash home heating assistance at a time of record-high fuel prices, impose new fees on veterans, and cut weatherization, nutrition and housing programs. For the super rich, however, special tax breaks would be preserved. "At a time when so many people in the middle class are hurting, it is almost inconceivable that a president could bring forth a budget that provides hundreds of billions in tax breaks for the richest 0.1 percent, and then make savage cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, home heating assistance, nutrition and other programs benefiting low- and middle-income Americans. As a member of the Budget Committee, I will do all I can to make sure the last Bush budget goes nowhere in a hurry."
Under Bush's $3.1 trillion budget proposal, cuts to Medicare alone would amount to about $600 billion over 10 years, a savings achieved by freezing payments to hospitals and other health care providers. "The cuts Bush wants in Medicare and Medicaid for the elderly and poor would make it even harder for those and other Americans struggling with rising health care costs," Sanders said.
Bush also seeks to eliminate or sharply slash programs such as home heating assistance, nutritional benefits, job training and weatherization.
Many veterans would face new fees for health care with an annual enrollment fee ranging from $250 to $750. Prescription drug co-payments for some veterans would go up by $8 to $15.
Defense Department outlays spelled out in the budget for the fiscal year beginning next October 1 fail to account for the growing cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while letting the Pentagon continue spending on outmoded Cold War weapons systems.
Sanders favors rescinding tax breaks for the wealthiest 1 percent and cutting wasteful defense spending. "Instead of giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires while cutting back on health care, the time has come for the wealthiest people and the most profitable corporations in this country to pay their fair share," Sanders said.
Highlights and lowlights of the Bush budget include:
- A cut of nearly $200 billion to Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years, and about $600 billion over the next decade which will compound the problems facing seniors and millions of other Americans struggling amid ever-rising health care costs.
- A complete elimination of the $243 million Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program. Over the last three decades, this program has successfully weatherized 5.5 million homes throughout the country, reduced energy costs for homeowners, improved the environment and created good-paying jobs.
- A $570 million cut to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program at a time when senior citizens on fixed incomes and low-income families with children struggle to pay to heat their homes this winter.
- A 29 percent cut in funding to train nurses, despite the fact that the United States faces a severe nursing shortage.
- A complete elimination of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a vital nutrition program primarily for low-income seniors but also serving mothers, infants and children across the country. The program provided more than 6 million food packages to nearly 500,000 low-income seniors, mothers and children across the country in 2007, including more than 4,000 Vermonters.
- A $484 million cut to job training and employment programs at a time when the unemployment rate is going up.
- A complete elimination of the $654 million Community Services Block Grant program, one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the country which has provided millions of Americans with emergency food assistance, employment, affordable housing and heating assistance. The block grants provide about $3.3 million in federal funding to five community action programs in Vermont that help more than 40,000 low-income Vermonters every year with heating assistance, weatherization, employment, housing, and emergency food.
- An 86 percent cut in Rural Health Programs.
- A $195 million cut to elderly housing.
- A $77 million reduction in housing assistance for the disabled.
- A $280 million cut to the Violence Against Women program.
- A cut of more than $1 billion for rural housing.
- A $900 million cut to the Community Development Block Grant Program, the signature program for cities, counties and local communities to create jobs, spur economic development and small business opportunities, and expand homeownership.
- A $500 million cut to the Social Services Block Grant program which provides funding to protect children from abuse and neglect, caring for homeless seniors, and providing services to children and adults with disabilities.