Robin Hood in reverse

More and more Americans are becoming aware that the Bush administration has brought back huge budget deficits. What most don’t fully understand is what those deficits mean.

When Bush entered office, he inherited a federal budget surplus of $80 billion. By 2004—as the result of a softening economy and vastly increased expenditures on defense, including financing two wars overseas, combined with massive tax cuts—the government was running a deficit of $412 billion, a switch of nearly $500 billion. Next year’s deficit is pegged at $427 billion, and that doesn’t include supplemental funding for the war in Iraq.

To get an idea of how large the deficit is, consider that if the government eliminated every education, public health, space exploration, housing assistance, environmental protection, school lunch, highway, national parks and veterans program and funded only defense, homeland security and entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, it would still be in the red by $75 billion.

Bush is the first president in U.S. history to cut taxes while waging war, and the results are clear to see. Now he wants to make his tax cuts permanent and institute even more tax breaks for high-end earners. He’s proposed some spending cuts in his new budget, but they won’t have much overall impact on the deficit; they’re politically difficult; and, in the cases of such services as food stamps, veterans’ medical care, child care, Medicaid and low-income housing, they’re cruel. The president is taking from the poor to help the rich.

Just as important, this token deficit reduction won’t stop the continued degradation of America’s financial standing in the world. The budget deficit is weakening the dollar on international markets to the point that foreign investors are hedging their bets. If this is allowed to continue, and investors lose confidence in the dollar, the consequences—in inflation and high interest rates—could be devastating for the U.S. economy. It’s up to Congress to rein in this president. Doris Matsui, are you ready?

Recidivism, part deux

Almost two years ago, state legislators determined it was time to overhaul California’s ultra-expensive, out-of-control Department of Corrections. The reforms were to focus especially on a redesign of the state’s parole system, in which two-thirds of 162,000 convicts left prison only to return again, mostly for violating parole conditions. The idea was to connect parolees to social-service programs (for example, sending nonviolent offenders to county drug-treatment centers) so as to reduce recidivism, save buckets of money and reduce crime.

It sounds good, right? But so far, no good. A hearing at the Capitol last week on the progress of these reforms was discouraging, at best. Apparently, the department has been dragging its heels. What’s it going to take for this crucial system reform to get on the front burner?