Wed, Feb 07, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Bush slashes aid to the poor to boost Iraq war chest

BUDGET Although the bill for the Iraq conflict is approaching the cost of the Vietnam war, Bush proposed a US$78 billion squeeze on medical care for the poor and elderly

THE GUARDIAN , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush is proposing to slash medical care for the poor and elderly to meet the soaring cost of the Iraq war.

Bush's US$2.9 trillion budget, sent to Congress on Monday, includes US$100 billion extra for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for this year, on top of US$70 billion already allocated by Congress and US$141.7 billion next year. He is planning an 11.3 percent increase for the Pentagon. Spending on the Iraq war is destined to top the total cost of the 13-year war in Vietnam.

The rise in military spending will be paid for by a squeeze on domestic programs, including US$66 billion in cuts over five years to Medicare, the healthcare scheme for the elderly, and US$12 billion from the Medicaid healthcare scheme for the poor.

Bush said: "Today we submit a budget to the United States Congress that shows we can balance the budget in five years without raising taxes ... Our priority is to protect the American people. And our priority is to make sure our troops have what it takes to do their jobs."

Although Democrats control Congress and have promised careful scrutiny of the budget over the next few months, Bush has left them in a bind, unwilling to withhold funds for US troops on the frontline. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the days when Bush could expect a blank cheque for the wars were over, but she also insisted the Democrats would not deny troops the money they needed. Democrats could block Bush's proposed cuts to 141 domestic programs.

John Spratt, the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, said: "I doubt that Democrats will support this budget and, frankly, I will be surprised if Republicans rally around it either."

Kent Conrad, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said: "The president's budget is filled with debt and deception, disconnected from reality, and continues to move America in the wrong direction. This administration has the worst fiscal record in history and this budget does nothing to change that."

The Vietnam war cost about US$614 billion at today's prices. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Iraq war has so far cost US$500 billion. About 90 percent of the spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars goes to Iraq. In addition to the spending on Iraq and Afghanistan this year and next, Bush is seeking US$50 billion for 2009.

Bush said the fact that there was no projected figure for 2010 did not mean he expected US troops to be out of Iraq by then. He said he did not want to set a timetable "because we don't want to send mixed signals to an enemy or to a struggling democracy or to our troops."

Included in the budget is US$5.6 billion for the extra 21,500 US troops that Bush ordered to Iraq last month. Some Democrats have threatened to withhold this part of the budget, but more than half of the troops are in place with the others on the way. A plan to build the Joint Strike Aircraft has been withheld. Its absence, at the request of the Pentagon, could have a knock-on effect for jobs in the UK.

In the run-up to the invasion in 2003, the Pentagon's projected estimate of the total cost of the war was US$50 billion. A White House economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, was fired by Bush when he suggested that the total cost would be US$200 billion.

The New York Times noted that the cost of the war would have paid for universal healthcare in the US, nursery education for all three and four-year-olds in the country, immunization for children around the world against a host of diseases, and still leave about half of the money left over.

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