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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: U.S. | Health, Housing, and Public Services
White House, Congress press plans for major cuts in social programs
Using the cost of Hurricane Katrina reconstruction as a pretext, Congressional Republicans, backed by the Bush administration, continue to push for sharp cuts in social programs.
The position of the Bush administration is that the federal government will play as limited a role as possible in aiding the evacuees from the hurricane and rebuilding devastated regions. At the same time, whatever spending is agreed will be balanced by cuts to programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps, that benefit the most vulnerable layers of society, including those most severely affected by the hurricane.
Bush reiterated this position on Tuesday, saying on NBC’s “Today” program, “You see, I don’t think Washington ought to dictate to New Orleans how to rebuild.” Bush said he told New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and “a group of distinguished New Orleans citizens” that the federal government “will support whatever plan that you develop. The point is that it comes from the local folks.”
The talk of “local folks” running the operation is intended to convey a definite message: the administration will not allow the hurricane to alter its policy of gutting social programs, privatizing public services, deregulating business and slashing taxes for the wealthy. There is to be no significant federal commitment to rebuilding New Orleans or addressing the problems of poverty and the decay of the social infrastructure laid bare by the hurricane and the government’s failure to respond.
This has been the more or less constant refrain from the administration since the hurricane struck. Treasury Secretary John Snow made similar comments at a Senate hearing last week, saying, “It is essential that the federal government play an appropriate role, but it should avoid taking steps that are excessive. We must tailor our response appropriately.”
Snow told Congress the administration would not guarantee New Orleans municipal bonds—a stand that condemns the city to bankruptcy. Within days the city announced the layoff of 3,000 municipal workers.
Bush also repeated last week his insistence that “Congress needs to pay for as much of the hurricane relief as possible by cutting spending.” He continued: “I will ask them to make even deeper reductions in the mandatory spending programs than are already planned. As Congress completes action on the 2006 appropriation bills, I call on members to make real cuts in non-security spending.”
Aside from declaring the military and intelligence agencies to be off limits as far as spending cuts are concerned, Bush has remained silent on specific programs to be slashed. This has been left to Republican members of Congress, working behind the scenes with the White House.