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Opponents Prepare to Challenge Bush Budget Cuts

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Feb. 15, 2005
http://www.btlonline.org

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Opponents Prepare to Challenge Bush Budget Cuts and Drive to Privatize Social Security

- Interview with Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:
http://www.btlonline.org/hickey021805.ram
(Needs RealOne player or RealPlayer)

After winning a narrow victory in the November 2004 election, President Bush set out an audacious set of foreign and domestic policy goals in his State of the Union address and his administration's budget proposal. In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush gloated about the higher than expected turnout in the Iraqi election and threatened the nations of Iran and Syria, demanding they comply with Washington's blueprint for a democratic transformation of the Middle East.

On the domestic front, the president made many questionable declarations about the imminent demise of the Social Security system while proposing that the nation follow his prescription of moving toward costly partial privatization of the popular New Deal era program. In his administration's 2006 budget proposal, Bush put forth a plan that would eliminate or deeply cut programs benefiting veterans, food stamp recipients, students and farmers, while increasing funding for the Pentagon. The dramatic cuts were said to be the start of a plan to reduce record deficits amassed during the president's first term in office.

But much of the country greeted Bush's audacious agenda with skepticism, noting that with the U.S. tied down in a bloody guerrilla war in Iraq, threats made against Iran and Syria were mere empty gestures. And although solutions to long-range shortfalls in Social Security and current budget deficits could easily be addressed with a rollback of the president's tax cuts primarily benefiting the rich, these obvious resolutions were willfully ignored. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, who takes a critical look at the president's agenda and the strategies being discussed to oppose his policies.

Roger Hickey: Well, it's really ironic that the president claims to be a champion of democracy around the world and he also claims to be pursuing terrorism systematically and effectively. That's probably the one issue that got him elected -- the claim that he's a fighter against the forces of terrorism. But in reality what he has done and continues to do, is stir up massive reaction to the United States and to even the notion of democracy, especially in the Middle East, where he has spent the treasure and the blood of American soldiers in a really ill-considered adventure. There were no weapons of mass destruction, there were no imminent threats to the United States at all, and Osama bin Laden is never mentioned in his speeches any more, because the full force of the U.S. military is focused on the maintenance operation in Iraq and threatening countries like Iran and others. The neocons around Bush have created a mess. It's costing enormous amounts of money in terms of the federal budget, and it is amazing to see them trying to package this mess as a crusade for democracy. It's far from it.

Between The Lines: Roger Hickey, in looking at the Bush administration's proposed budget specifics, deep cuts, elimination of some (social) programs. The Bush administration seems to be targeting all these programs for the poor and disadvantaged. And they justify it by saying that this is an effort to reduce the deficit. Does it make any sense to you?

Roger Hickey: It makes a lot of sense. They have, on purpose, created this deficit. When the Bush administration came into office, there were large surpluses; we were actually paying down our debt. And we had money to attack (child) poverty and other noble causes, fix Social Security. If fact, they have systematically created this federal deficit by cutting taxes for the very wealthy. And these tax cuts now have given us a massive problem, a problem that the president is now addressing by slashing the budget. It's health care for young children that's on the chopping block; it's nutrition programs; it's education. This president tries, claims to be an education president. He temporarily increased spending for education while he was trying to get the "No Child Left Behind" act passed and now education in this budget is targeted for steady reductions. This plays very, very well to Bush's Republican hard-core supporters, especially the very wealthy. But this is a budget that is going to hurt the middle class. It's going to be a bloody battle. If the Republicans stay together, they may have the votes to pass it. And then on top of this budget-cutting, Bush will then try to extend the tax cuts for the wealthy and make them permanent. And so, you're going to see additional holes blown into the federal budget for the out years, as they call them.

And then you have the Social Security privatization plan, which all experts estimate is going to cost $2 trillion in transition costs over the next 10 years. Those are major, major impacts on the federal revenue, which this budget does not take into account. It's quite a mess.

Between The Lines: Roger Hickey, as you survey the Democrats and other opposition voices out there, what are the chances the country is going to respond effectively to defeat this agenda, whether it be the foreign policy agenda, the privatization of Social Security, these deep cuts in the federal budget?

Roger Hickey: Well, I do think that on foreign policy, the president has got a shot in the arm in terms of the election. Polling shows that people are feeling a little bit better about the "Iraqi adventure. " But that's not going to last long if the Bush administration does not figure out an exit strategy. And I think there will be continuing calls -- as Ted Kennedy called for just the other day -- a plan to remove our troops from the Middle East and from Iraq. This is similar to the Vietnam War when Nixon tried to "Vietnamize" the Vietnam War. More and more members of Congress are joining with average people in the street, saying "let's see a plan for withdrawal."

In terms of the domestic bloodbath that is the federal budget, just about every group that you can imagine, every organized civic association and group that represents working families is engaged in trying to stop the cuts. I think there will be victories against the Bush budget although the Republicans have the votes; they stand united to pretty much pass whatever they want. I think the one place where the Bush administration is going to find their Waterloo this year is going to be on this plan to privatize Social Security. The Republicans are divided; the Democrats are united in opposition to privatization. There is hope and there is a likelihood that Bush is going to see his winning streak broken and turned around.

Contact information and related links can be found on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl021805.html#1html

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Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Feb. 18, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

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