Fw: Implications of Bush Budget for People with Disabilities
- Justice For All
Implications of Bush Budget for People with Disabilities
Young and Fay write:
Last night, President Bush delivered a well-spoken and comprehensive
State of the Union Address. It was good to hear him recognize the
needs of people with disabilities as he said: "My New Freedom
Initiative for Americans with disabilities funds new technologies,
expands opportunities to work and makes our society more welcoming.
For the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities, we must
continue to break down barriers to equality."
But people with disabilities, like all Americans, should examine the
details of the President's address and ask some tough questions.
First and foremost, the disability community has a vested interest
in questioning the President's math. A New York Times editorial,
reprinted below, makes some important observations. "In his poised,
focused and warmly received address to Congress last night," says
the Times, "President Bush presented a vision of government as
'active but limited, engaged but not overbearing.' It was a polished
debut, with some eloquent flourishes that showcased Mr. Bush's
likability, self-confidence and, above all, his determination to
move beyond the Republicans' reflexive anti-government ideology."
But, the editorial continues, "this balanced tone could not disguise
the tale told by Mr. Bush's numbers. The budget that he is proposing
is distorted by his insistence on financing a bigger tax cut than is
needed, fair or prudent."
Some issues and questions to think about and raise across the
President Bush proposes a tax cut of $1.6 Trillion, which most
experts agree will really cost approximately $2.6 Trillion when
hidden costs are taken into account. Although the President is
saying that this is the amount "left over" after the government's
expenses are fully attended to, his budget proposes cuts throughout
federal programs to make money available for his tax cut. He does
not dedicate as much money to paying down the debt as many Members
of Congress would like, and in the end the Surplus may not
The reason the debate over tax cuts is so important is the impact
that such cuts can have for decades. In the early 1980s, President
Reagan pursued a vigorous tax cutting agenda in part because it
would help apply pressure to reduce government spending. In other
words, if Congress wouldn't elect to reduce spending on its own,
making less money available for government programs would force
painful cuts. Unfortunately (or fortunately) Members of Congress
from both parties were unable or unwilling to make many budget cuts
that would have adverse consequences for the American people,
resulting in soaring budget deficits.
President Bush claims to be taking a different approach by first
taking care of government programs, but this belies the reality that
his budget depends upon holding federal agency budgets to rates that
do not even keep policies and programs in pace with the rate of
inflation. If Congress passes this tax cut and then, as would be
likely, is unable to make program cuts to realize unrealistic budget
projections (on which the surplus estimate is based), then we run
the risk of returning to an era of budget deficits and mounting
national debt. Once taxes are cut, as we all know, it's hard to
ever re-instate them. And under the balanced budget framework, new
spending cannot be approved without raising revenue or cutting other
programs to pay for it. That leaves little room for well-deserved
disability community priorities.
President Bush talks about how everyone who pays income tax will get
relief under his plan. But if financing that tax plan means
restricting or ending programs that aid people of low or no income,
how does the Bush administration intend to truly address the needs
of people with disabilities, who have consistently been shown to be
of considerably lower income and assets than the general population?
Will the Bush Administration's emphasis on local control in public
schools undermine the rights of students with disabilities?
Will the prioritization on education as the single-greatest area of
budget increase include substantial increases for special education?
Will the promotion of standardized testing have an adverse impact on
students with disabilities? Will reasonable accommodations be
President Bush said in his State of the Union Address: "As standards
rise, local schools will need more flexibility to meet them. So we
must streamline the dozens of federal education programs into five
and let states spend money in those categories as they see fit."
What will happen to special education programs in this
streamlining? Will States have more flexibility NOT to provide
special education services, which are already inadequate?
SOCIAL SECURITY & MEDICARE
The President said: "My budget dedicates $238 billion to Medicare
next year alone, enough to fund all current programs and to begin a
new prescription drug benefit for low-income seniors."
In recent years, Members of Congress have tried to weaken or reduce
the levels of benefits under Medicare and Medicaid, but these
efforts were resisted and successfully pushed back by the Clinton-
Gore Administration. Will President Bush continue to oppose these
Will he also ensure that Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities
have access to prescription drugs?
Will a focus on prescription drugs for low-income beneficiaries
create a NEW work disincentive by encouraging people to reduce or
hold their income in order to remain available for a drug benefit
linked to amount of income?
As the President pursues privatization of Social Security, will his
pledge to maintain the disability insurance and survivors insurance
components be borne out? If the Social Security systems is already
inadequate to pay current claims, how will reducing the total
revenue going into the Social Security system be able to sustain
benefits for people with disabilities, who are less likely to be
able to set aside their own savings?
As the President talks about reducing their marriage penalty, is
there any discussion of reducing the penalty against people with
disabilities receiving Social Security benefits?
President Bush proposes offering tax credits so that people can
purchase their own health insurance and be reimbursed through the
How can this help people with disabilities who are unable to qualify
for private health insurance because of pre-existing conditions or
How can this help people with disabilities who cannot afford the
costly private insurance premiums, especially given that the federal
benefit will not be computed until tax time each year?
What does this mean for people with disabilities who don't even earn
enough income to benefit at all from tax credits?
CHARITY & CIVIL RIGHTS
President Bush said: "And my budget adopts a hopeful new approach to
help the poor and the disadvantaged. We must encourage and support
the work of charities and faith-based and community groups that
offer help and love one person at a time."
Will an emphasis on charity promote "goodwill" at the expense of
What impact will faith-based groups -- some of which have fostered
negative attitudes towards people with disabilities -- have on
promoting the empowerment and independence of people with
What about enforcement levels for civil rights, including the ADA,
IDEA, and other disability rights laws?
Will President Bush hold the defensive line against Congressional
attempts to weaken ADA and IDEA (e.g. ADA Notification & Discipline
DISABILITY COMMUNITY PRIORITIES
What about the Family Opportunity Act?
What about the MiCASSA grants?
What about accessible housing?
What about technology opportunities?
What about _________________ ?
President Bush and his Administration deserve credit for
acknowledging people with disabilities. President Bush presented a
well-crafted speech that said many of the right things and appeared
to chart a bipartisan course. But people with disabilities should
read between the lines and evaluate the Bush Administration's
numbers. Are we about to head down a path like the one in the 1980s
that sought to drastically reduce government spending, push people
with disabilities off of Social Security entirely, and turn back
civil rights protections? Write letters and editorials for your
newspapers. Join local talk radio shows. Be "citizen
participants," as President Bush said in his Inaugural Address, not
The full text of the New York Times editorial follows.
"Mr. Bush's Budget Strategy"
The New York Times, February 28, 2001
In his poised, focused and warmly received address to Congress last
night, President Bush presented a vision of government as "active
but limited, engaged but not overbearing." It was a polished debut,
with some eloquent flourishes that showcased Mr. Bush's likability,
self-confidence and, above all, his determination to move beyond the
Republicans' reflexive anti-government ideology. Especially
noteworthy was Mr. Bush's call for an end to racial profiling by the
police. He also spoke fervently of schools that reach "every child
in America," another of his many gestures to Democrats, minorities
and others still skeptical of his mandate. He outlined a creative
path between "those who want more government regardless of the cost"
and "those who want less government, regardless of the need."
But this balanced tone could not disguise the tale told by Mr.
Bush's numbers. The budget that he is proposing is distorted by his
insistence on financing a bigger tax cut than is needed, fair or
prudent. The nation saw an amiable presentation of the most
ideologically driven budget since Ronald Reagan's supply-side
offering in 1981. In order to finance his tax cut, Mr. Bush would
gamble with fiscal discipline and sacrifice flexibility on spending.
Indeed, the polls say that Americans recognize that his tax cut is
weighted toward the rich and that it jeopardizes the ability to pay
down the debt, fend off deficits and finance education, retirement
Last night Mr. Bush did not change his tax cut proposal, but he did
change the spin. He made it sound as if he and his budget aides had
spent the last few weeks trying to set aside large chunks of money
to do all the things that Americans want, and that after that
exercise, there was "still money left over," as he said repeatedly,
for the tax cut of the precise size he called for last year.
But as even nonpartisan experts recognize, his $1.6 trillion cut is
actually closer to $2.6 trillion once allowances are made for its
retroactivity, lost debt- service savings and Congress's
determination to change other tax laws to make Mr. Bush's package
fully effective. That means that the $1 trillion "contingency fund"
that Mr. Bush said he wanted to set aside for the next 10 years will
be almost all eaten up. Mr. Bush boasted that he would use $2
trillion for paying down the debt over 10 years. But that is far
less than the $2.9 trillion generated by the Social Security and
Medicare trust funds that most members of Congress want to use for
that purpose. The underlying danger is that the president's plan
will siphon revenues from these two big retirement trust funds to
finance the tax cut and other selected budget items.
Mr. Bush was right to say that continuing the big spending increases
of the last few years could become a "dangerous road to deficits."
But he left out the fact that the same can be said for unrestrained
tax cuts. The Bush tax plan, coupled with big increases in
education, defense, science research and a few other areas, in the
context of an overall 4 percent growth rate, translates into
significant cuts in many programs. Mr. Bush did not mention that
last night, because to do so would have underlined the distorting
effect of the tax cut. The tax cut has also forced him to introduce
the dubious theory that only two-thirds of the national debt is
"available" to be retired and the rest can be ignored for now.
In the end, it was a stylistically impressive but substantively
frustrating performance on a historic night when, for the first time
since 1954, Americans saw only Republicans on the House rostrum. The
economy is sputtering some after the longest expansion in American
history, but the government still has significant resources. Mr.
Bush's many declarations that government must play a role in
improving schools, promoting a patients' bill of rights and many
other challenges may lower the temperature of Washington's
destructive ideological wars. Mr. Bush was right to remind
legislators that "bipartisanship is more than minding our manners,
it is doing our duty." In that spirit, Congress should push Mr. Bush
toward a better-proportioned budget that would allow for prudent tax
relief for middle-income Americans, paying down the debt,
modernizing the military, shoring up Social Security and Medicare
and financing schools and prescription drug benefits. Working
together toward that goal, he and Congress could then reach the
truly "reasonable and responsible" approach to budgeting that he
spoke of last night.
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