Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Budget as a Moral Crisis

The Federal Budget, like snow and cold rain, comes in bleak midwinter, and this year’s deepens the glumness of the season. How else to react to a budget that, when read as a moral document, reeks of immorality?

It is a budget that would allocate half of all discretionary spending to “defense,” much of that to an unworthy and now futile war, while asking no one save our volunteer soldiers and their families to sacrifice. For the first time in American history we find ourselves fighting a war – one its perpetrators call “civilizational” – while the lavish tax cuts this budget would make permanent are showered on the richest one percent of Americans, tax cuts that deepen an out-of-control deficit.

Other Americans – the middle class and working poor – are nickled-and-dimed to pay for such largesse. Offset “savings” – nowhere near what’s needed to achieve real balance – are carved out of college tuition assistance, food assistance, farm subsidies, Medicare, and, most galling of all in the context of this war, veterans’ assistance. And, when one protests such blatant class warfare, one finds oneself accused of class warfare. Do they have no shame?

Class warfare? Take the imminent tidal wave called the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) that is about to engulf a largely unsuspecting middle class. Originally intended to capture trillions sheltered by the rich in dubious tax shelters but left un-indexed for inflation, it will, next year, wipe out many middle class tax payers unless there is some relief. This budget promises relief – a one year cut in the AMT – conveniently for election year 2008. But no permanent cut here. In 2009, AMT comes back with a vengeance. The answer, of course, is not a one-time candy-coated sedative for voters, but rather real reform involving, at very least, indexing to spare the middle class on a long-term basis.

If, however, the AMT is scaled back to its original modest intentions, the shortfalls in tax revenues beyond 2008 would be astronomical. In the face of such revenue losses, there would be no way to justify other permanent tax cuts that would balloon an already dangerously outrageous deficit. That deficit is being kicked down the road to our children and grandchildren. This is not just fiscally irresponsible, it is morally indefensible.

In sum this is a budget that widens the gap between rich and poor, threatens the middle class, and promises increased generational inequity. Any way you parse it, it is wrong.