Get ready for the interest groups and beneficiaries to squeal, scream, cry and ultimately demean. The issue? Why, President George W. Bush's "lean" 2006 budget. Americans want their welfare state.
The president's budget, excluding defense, homeland security and entitlements, calls for a 1 percent decrease from 2005. (Bush's total 2006 budget is a 7 percent increase over his 2005 budget.) The latest budget includes the elimination of, or "cuts" in, over 150 programs.
Now, understand. Cuts in Washington usually mean lowering the projected increases. Take, for example, NASA, the U.S. Space Agency. The president proposes $16.45 billion for NASA in 2006. That's a 2.4 percent increase over what the government is spending this year on the program. But it is $500 million less than what the space agency was expecting for 2006. So, NASA is listed as one of the 154 programs facing extinction or "drastic spending reductions." Only in Washington does a decrease in the proposed increase equal a spending cut.
But the true "discretionary" part of the budget -- excluding entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps and interest on the debt -- amounts to only about 36 percent of the budget. And the three biggest entitlement programs -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- remain, without dramatic changes, on automatic pilot.