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National NOW Times >> Spring 2003 >> Article

Legislative Update: Bush Budget Extends Deficit, Women's Rights Under Attack

by Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director

Bush Budget - Editorial Cartoon
(c) 2003. The Washington Post Writers Group. Reprinted with permission.

Tax Cuts Endanger Human Needs

Mindful of loud objections, the Senate demonstrated a bit of fiscal restraint by slashing George W.'s outrageous ten-year $726 billion tax cut package to $350 billion. Like his previous tax cuts, this round would shower benefits on very high income earners, while providing little or nothing to moderate and low-income families. NOW has argued against ANY tax cuts because of looming federal deficits and the reduced ability of government to fund important human needs programs.

This reduction was the first major setback for the administration's domestic spending agenda, which Bush had touted as stimulus to the ailing economy. But many prominent economists assert that the cuts would not produce the needed trigger, would exacerbate the economic downturn by reducing revenues to financially-strapped states already in financial trouble and would lead to even greater job losses.

Three million workers have lost their jobs in the last two years; one million have exhausted unemployment compensation benefits but have not yet found jobs. The House budget resolution reduces by $162 billion a wide array of entitlement (mandatory) programs, including nutrition assistance, income support, health care, child care for working poor families and assistance to poor elderly individuals and people with disabilities. It also calls for $244 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary spending, which includes programs for low income individuals and families. The Senate version contains $159 billion in domestic discretionary program cuts, but does not cut entitlement programs.

At the same time, the budget allocates a whopping $399.2 billion for defense and homeland security and increases defense spending by $193 billion over the next six years. Just before the Senate vote, the administration sent over a request for $75 billion to fight the war against Iraq. With new reports that the war may drag on for months, some are estimating the cost to be closer to $200 billion—and billions more to rebuild the war-torn country.

Plunging U.S. Into Long-Term Debt

Because of the first round of tax cuts and revenue due to a poor economy—this year's federal budget deficit will come to $304 billion. Over five years it will be $1.08 trillion or higher.

Adding to the burden, Bush will soon push for legislation to shield capital gains and interest from taxation, and accelerate planned income tax cuts. Unless federal spending is drastically cut, this will spawn significant, long-term national debt. In the meantime, the federal government will be shrunk to bare bones and debt-ridden state governments will inherit responsibility for the disadvantaged.

Such a dramatic turn-around in national economic well-being is of special significance to women, as the entire Social Security surplus of $2.2 trillion would be spent and the expectation of $5.6 trillion to the Social Security Trust Fund over the next ten years would have evaporated.

Bush's irresponsible fiscal policies threaten the retirement security of millions of workers—even more so for divorced, widowed, disabled and very elderly women who depend on their Social Security checks. This cynical strategy of weakening the fiscal soundness of Social Security may make it easier for the Bush administration to convince enough members of Congress to repeal the system and replace it with risky private investment accounts.

Dramatically Shrinking Government

The administration's budget plan would slash Medicaid and the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), freeze funding of child care and make deep cuts in welfare, public housing assistance, employment and training, community development, legal services, state and local law enforcement assistance and many other areas. The Bush budget also:

  • Continues the inadequate funding of Medicare programs, which will accelerate the recent trend of health care providers dropping services to seniors and provide the Republicans with a handy rationale for turning Medicare into an under-funded voucher program.

  • Increases the likelihood of dismantling of Medicaid and forces fiscally-strapped states to block grant the low income health care programs and to pay back the federal government $12.8 billion. Forty-nine states have already cut Medicaid services.

    Finally, rumors are circulating that the Republicans plan to railroad this budget, and future draconian budgets, through Congress via the reconciliation process. This streamlined procedure limits debate, curtails amendments and prohibits a filibuster. This way, right-wingers in Congress and the White House intend to overhaul the federal government, dramatically scale back discretionary programs, pass more tax cuts and increase spending on their favorite programs—such as defense, national security and anti-terrorism.

    Stealth provisions in the current budget also remove certain federal requirements on social programs, giving states wide discretion on how they provide assistance to low-income families. But with a majority of states facing serious budget shortfalls, we expect dramatic reductions and elimination of many programs in any case.

    A Greater Burden for Poor Mothers

    The House rubber-stamped (230-192) the administration's bad welfare bill (H.R. 4) on a mostly party-line vote in February, by moving the bill straight to a floor vote, with no committee hearings. The legislation expands work-related activities for a majority of welfare recipients to 40 hours a week without providing additional child care funds to the already under-funded programs.

    No increase in funding is authorized, on the unfounded belief that caseloads will continue to decline despite our poor economy, intensifying the burden on fiscally-stressed states to create and pay for more workfare programs. Already, some states are reporting an increase in welfare recipients.

    The heightened work requirements will make it almost impossible for poor women to gain the additional education or job training to climb out of minimum wage jobs. There is a slim ray of hope, in that several important Republican senators working on TANF re-authorization support education and training opportunities. In addition, states are required to conduct marriage promotion programs, and most immigrants are denied benefits. Activists are encrouaged to call their senators and urge them to support a significant increase in child care services as well as expanded education and training options for poor women in the welfare-to-work process.

    A Wave of Anti-Abortion Bills

    A tidal wave of anti-reproductive rights legislation has begun to roll through Congress. Now that our opponents control Congress and the White House, there will be little opportunity to amend or prevent numerous initiatives limiting access to abortion and contraception.

    The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, contains what is essentially a giant refusal clause allowing any health care provider or insurer to deny reproductive health care services or information if it is against their "moral beliefs." The Child Custody Protection Act, which we call the "Teen Endangerment Act," would criminalize grandmothers, aunts and sisters—any adult other than a parent who takes a teenager across state lines for reproductive health care services, if the home state has a parental involvement law.

    A bill that may move soon is the RU-486 Patient Health and Safety Protection Act (H.R. 486) that would greatly restrict access to mifepristone (RU-486) by requiring a host of unnecessary requirements for physicians who prescribe the abortion drug.

    The Informed Choice Act (S. 340/H.R. 195) would provide grants to anti-abortion 'crisis' pregnancy centers to purchase ultrasound equipment and would require that these clinics show women the visual image of the fetus, provide a description of the fetus and give instructions on alternatives to abortion.

    We also anticipate legislation restricting access to emergency contraception and making abortion providers ineligible for Title X family planning grants—likely dismantling our national network of local family planning clinics.

    Procedures Ban Passes Senate

    Making a repeat appearance is the deceptively-named "Partial Birth Abortion" Ban Act which would prohibit most safe abortion procedures performed after 12 weeks, while failing to provide a constitutionally-required exception to preserve the woman's health. The Senate passed (64-33, with 16 Democrats voting for) this dangerous ban in early March. A number of amendments that promoted better access to contraception and health care were defeated, but the Senate approved (52-46) a non-binding resolution affirming that the Supreme Court made a correct decision in Roe v. Wade.

    The House is expected to pass the ban in April and George W. Bush, reportedly, can't wait to sign it. Because of vague language in S. 3, physicians could stop performing nearly all types of abortion procedures after 12 weeks, for fear of ending up in prison. A court challenge is certain.

    In February, the House passed the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003 (H.R. 534) precluding federal funding for stem cell research that could lead to important advances in treating a wide range of chronic and fatal diseases. The Senate will take up the bill soon and is expected to narrowly pass a version which allows limited therapeutic research.

    The House is expected to vote in the near future on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (S. 146), which would punish an individual who injures or kills a fetus during the commission of a federal crime. The real purpose of the legislation is to advance the rights of an embryo separate and apart from the woman, undermining the basic premise of Roe v. Wade.

    Fetuses Get Health Care Coverage

    In early November, regulations went into effect making a fetus—not the pregnant woman—eligible for health care services under the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Touted as a way to make sure poor women get pre-natal care, the wording of the regulation made clear its intent: to establish personhood of the fetus.

    Abortion Opponent on Committee

    On Dec. 24, during Congress' holiday break, Bush slid through his appointment of religious extremist Dr. David Hager to the important Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration. In his medical practice, Hager has refused to prescribe contraceptives for women unless they are married and urges prayer for such problems as PMS and post-partum depression. Hager recently spear-headed an effort requiring the FDA to conduct further studies on RU-486 (mifepristone), with the ultimate goal of seeing the abortion drug withdrawn from the market. He now sits on the committee that originally recommended approval of RU-486.

    Clinic Violence Amendment Dropped

    Legislation to revamp bankruptcy laws was passed (315-113) by the House in February. The so-called Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act of 2003, H.R. 975, does not contain the Schumer amendment that would have closed a loophole in the law that allowed clinic violence defendants to use bankruptcy to avoid paying court fees, fines and judgements. The Senate will soon vote on this legislation—much desired by the banking and credit card industries, which have poured millions into the re-election campaigns of friendly politicians. H.R. 975 would create additional hardship for women who declare bankruptcy when faced with job loss, divorce, extensive medical expenses or are owed child support by men who file for bankruptcy, while also making it harder to collect past due child support.

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