Alternative Budget 2005

Thursday, 9 December 2004

Congress this week passed the last of the spending bills for the fiscal 2005 budget, which began 1 October. The budget reflects the priorities--or maybe I should say the values--of the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. An examination of this budget is a shocking indictment of the values that this administration and its supporters in Congress really have, campaign rhetoric notwithstanding. I will examine each of the major line items below, along with a proposed alternative budget. The short version, though, is that the budget that passed this week values carnage over compassion, American lives over foreign lives, and the rich over the poor. The budget that I propose will reflect progressive, Christian values.

The budget is also fiscally irresponsible, and the Congressional Budget Office projects a deficit of about $350 billion. That projection doesn't include the supplemental requests that the administration will seek for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (probably on the order of $100 billion), nor does it include money "borrowed" from surpluses in Social Security income, which make the deficit appear approximately $150 billion smaller than it really is. The actual budget deficit projected for 2005 is thus really closer to $600 billion. The budget I propose will eliminate the budget deficit entirely, partially through spending cuts and partially through raising taxes on those who can afford it most (i.e., those who have received the biggest tax cuts over the past four years).

Before I present my alternative budget, I offer a disclaimer. I do not claim to know the details of how money is proposed to be spent in each category that I will discuss, beyond what appears on various Web sites that break the spending down. Nor am I overly concerned with the details at this point, only the general categories. My projections are based solely on what I consider to be reasonable in the light of my Christian faith, and especially on the teachings of Jesus. Oh yeah, remember him? He's the one whose birthday we're celebrating by passing a budget that glorifies war in all its brutality.

One final note: the figures that I've found on news sites don't always match exactly the amounts listed on a semi-official House Web site, but if they're not exactly the same, they're close. When they differ, I've gone with the House version. Also, the non-defense totals in the actual budget don't add up to $388 billion, because the figures I've seen are incomplete, so I've calculated by alternative budget by measuring the differences from the actual budget in those programs that I've listed and added or subtracted from $388 billion. Without further ado, here is my proposed alternative budget for 2005, beginning with non-military spending.


Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$57 billion$75 billion

I propose spending more on education than the current budget calls for. The additional money would help low-income school districts build new buildings or repair existing buildings and purchase additional supplies for the classroom. I would direct most of the money to inner-city and rural school districts. States need to find ways to increase teacher's salaries, and some federal money could be used as matching funds. Education is a high priority. It has the potential to be the great equalizer, offering students in the poorest neighborhoods a way to improve their own lives and the lives of their families and neighbors. Spending more on the education of poor, predominantly minority children is an important way of providing for the needs of the poor, as the Bible mandates.


Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$59 billion$70 billion

I propose spending more on transportation that the current budget calls for. The additional money would help cities that do not have them develop high-speed public transportation systems. The lack of decent public transportation systems, especially light rail, in cities across the nation, and especially in the South, leads to more cars on the road, more traffic congestion, and more pollution. Good public transportation is good for cities.

Foreign Aid

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$19.5 billion$80 billion

In 1992, the governments of the world, under the auspices of the U.N., met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to discuss Official Development Assistance (ODA). The richest 22 nations pledged to help alleviate poverty and chronic underdevelopment around the world by increasing their ODA giving to 0.7% of the individual nation's Gross National Product (GNP). In 2003, five countries met or exceeded that goal: Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Sweden. Six other countries gave at least 0.34% of their GNP, or half of the goal: Belgium, Ireland, France, Switzerland, the UK, and Finland. At the very bottom of the list, 22nd out of 22, was the U.S., whose ODA spending was 0.14% of GNP. For the richest country in the world (our GNP is more than twice that of the next country, Japan), such a showing is pathetic and emblematic of national selfishness and misplaced priorities. It is not that the U.S. doesn't give a lot of money in foreign aid; we do. It's just that as a percentage of our wealth, our spending is anemic. Furthermore, at least one-third of all our "foreign aid" spending goes for military or law-enforcement assistance rather than agricultural aid or something similar. I propose changing both the amount of foreign aid and the kind of foreign aid we give. As for the amount, I propose that we give the full 0.7% of GNP that the Rio Earth Summit asked for. In addition, I would eliminate almost all military and quasi-military spending, most of which goes to Israel, Egypt, and Colombia. Legitimate security needs can be handled through the United Nations. If we deem it vital to a nation's survival (as opposed to propping up pro-American regimes that don't represent the wishes of the population) to continue military aid, that money should be transferred out of the foreign aid category and into the military category. Foreign aid should be directed especially to those parts of the world that are currently breeding grounds for terrorists, both because of poverty and because of political repression. Of course, combating terrorism in this way (analogous to draining the swamp to get rid of mosquitoes, as many have pointed out) also requires a shift from short-term to long-term strategic thinking on the part of the administration (and all administrations, Democratic and Republican, have had this problem).

State Department

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$8.3 billion$8.3 billion

I have no problem with the amount spent on the State Department. I do find it interesting, though, that the amount in the current budget is $554 less than was budgeted last year. Does this decrease reflect Bush's lack of regard for Colin Powell and his efforts? What will happen to the budget once Condoleeza Rice takes over?

Land and Cultural Programs

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$20 billion$25 billion

I propose increasing spending for the Interior Department, primarily to increase funding for three programs: (1) Bureau of Indian Affairs; (2) Indian Health Service; (3) federal land acquisition. The poverty and unemployment rates among Native Americans are a travesty, and these issues need to be addressed as a matter of high priority. The Clinton administration added a lot of land to the National Parks system, but the Bush administration has done very little in this area. This trend needs to be reversed.

Health, Social Programs, and Labor

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$95 billion$125 billion

I propose an increase in spending in the areas of health and labor so that (1) health care is available to all Americans and (2) unemployment benefits are extended.

Veterans Health Administration

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$30.3 billion$30.3 billion

This amount, which is an increase over last year and more than the president requested, seems reasonable to me at this point.

Housing and Urban Development

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$37.3 billion$50 billion

The amount spent in areas such as Section 8 housing, rental assistance, public and Indian housing, and homeless programs needs to increase. There are insufficient places for the homeless to stay, especially in the winter, and many poor people could afford to pay for a portion of their housing costs if the government would help pick up the tab for the rest. Homelessness disproportionately affects children and the mentally ill, and the right to decent housing is a basic human right.

Justice Department

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$20.9 billion$20.9 billion

This amount seems right. However, I would transfer some of the money allocated to the FBI (they got a 14% increase) and use it as grants for state and local law enforcement.

Environmental Protection Agency

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$8.1 billion$10 billion

Congress allocated more to the EPA than Bush wanted, but the budgeted amount is still a slight decrease. Obviously caring for the environment is not very high on Bush's scale of priorities. I think extra money should be allocated to Superfund cleanups. The biggest problem with the EPA, however, is not funding but leadership. The current leaders of the EPA, on orders from the White House, are more interested in protecting corporate interests than the environment. There is no hope that things will change in the next four years under the second Bush administration.


Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$16.2 billion$16.2 billion

The space agency got about a 5% increase in this year's budget, reflecting the administration's continued interest in space. Unfortunately, it is likely that some portion of this money will go toward an ill-informed, short-sighted, and immoral attempt to put weapons in space.

National Science Foundation

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$5.5 billion$9 billion

The current budget cuts a small amount from the National Science Foundation. Instead of cutting money, the administration should support an increase in spending. In particular, money ought to be allocated to developing the technology for using alternative fuels, although other areas of research are also valuable. Could the Superconducting Supercollider be salvaged? It would be nice for the U.S. to lead the world in money spent on scientific research in many different areas, including high-energy subatomic particle physics. Some of the money should also be spent on educating the public, including public school teachers and school boards, about evolution. The public is woefully misinformed on the subject, and they are particularly confused about what a scientific "theory" is (i.e., a model that has held up under rigorous scientific testing).

National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$0.3 billion$1 billion

Spending on the arts and humanities should be increased considerably more than the current budget allows. Public arts projects especially should receive additional funding. Art, music, architecture, and drama represent the inner spirit of a people, and increasing the public's access to art will enhance the quality of life for everyone.

Homeland Security

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$40.2 billion$34 billion

After September 11, it is hard to argue against spending a fair amount for securing the country from terrorists. However, it is wrong to believe that more than doubling the amount spend on border security will help that much. If we're serious about fighting terrorism, we'll do better to spend the money on foreign aid to regions that are breeding grounds for terrorists because of poverty and political repression. If money spent on alleviating the conditions that give rise to terrorism is included under the rubric of homeland security, the alternative budget I'm proposing greatly exceeds the actual budget in spending in this area.


Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$511 billion$125 billion

This category is traditionally called Defense spending, but the war on Iraq proves that the "Department of Defense" is a misnomer, even a euphemism. The $511 billion budgeted for defense spending is considerably less than the U.S. will actually spend, since appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan are not included. In fiscal 2004 these extra-budgetary expenditures amounted to well over $100 billion, and there is no reason to think that 2005 will be any different. Thus, we are looking at a figure closer to $600 billion for total military spending. This amount not only dwarfs non-military discretionary spending (which is $388 billion), it is more than all the other nations in the world spend on their militaries, combined! I would like to say that the amount that the U.S. spends on its military is a perversion of our nation's (and especially our current leaders') supposedly Christian values, but I can't, because this amount of money dedicated to carnage, injustice, and destruction cannot be said to be based on Christian values in any way. I propose that the defense budget be slashed to $125 billion, which would include money to repair the damage we've caused to Iraq. I also propose an immediate withdrawal after the elections in January 2005. Of the $125 billion that I propose, $10 billion would be used to help the U.N. create a top-flight group of peacekeepers, and whatever money is not needed immediately should be reserved for future use, if necessary. A further $10 billion should be used to help those people who will no longer be in the armed forces transition into new jobs. Another $10 billion would increase the pay of those who remain in the military, since military pay, particularly for the lower enlisted ranks, is pitifully low. These expenditures will leave $95 billion for the U.S. military, an amount that is roughly twice that of the nearest country. This is the amount that would be the base amount in future years.

Department of Peace

Actual Budget Alternative Budget
none$5 billion

If we can spend $95 billion on war and preparation for war (not counting the payments we make for wars we've already fought, in the form of payments to veterans of those wars and interest payments on war bonds and budget deficits resulting from war), surely we can spend $5 billion actively seeking to make peace around the world. U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich is an advocate of a Department of Peace, and it is an excellent idea (as are many of his other ideas; he is a true progressive).


Actual Budget Alternative Budget
$939 billion$695.1 billion

In my alternative budget I propose $148.3 billion in extra spending in a variety of categories, but I more than offset the increases by proposing savings of $392.2 billion in defense and homeland security. My alternative budget has reduced the deficit for fiscal 2005 to $78 billion (this is a true amount for the deficit, because it doesn't use Social Security surpluses to artificially reduce the published amount of the deficit). The remainder of the deficit can easily be erased by reforming the tax code. A detailed proposal for reforming the tax code will have to wait for another essay, but I would start by rolling back Bush's various tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and reinstating the estate tax (at a higher excluded amount of $1 million). In addition, I would increase the top marginal rate, imposed on income above $1 million, to 50% (a rate that is actually fairly low by historical standards). I would then exempt from income taxes individuals and families making less than twice the official poverty amount. These changes would easily erase the deficit and put us back in the land of surpluses. This surplus money could be used to shore up Social Security (including moving the retirement age back to 65), pay down the national debt, and provide tax relief to the poor (especially) and the middle class.

Some of the changes that I'm proposing to make in my alternative budget, particularly those involving the military, are no doubt drastic, but I believe that they reflect the principles of Christianity--care for the poor, peacemaking, justice, love--much more closely than the actual budget we are saddled with for the next year.

© Copyright 2004, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology