Alaska editorial: An irresponsible omnibus budget bill

Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Now that the U.S. House has dropped Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling from the omnibus budget bill, Alaskans have no reason to root for its passage. The House budget bill is irresponsible with the nation's finances. It is grossly unfair to the nation's less fortunate. And it is overloaded with controversial new laws that should be considered and decided with separate up-or-down votes.

The budget bill does nothing to close the multihundred-billion-dollar deficits that are beginning to sap the nation's economic strength. Its $50 billion or so in spending cutbacks would be given right back to wealthy Americans, as President Bush and Republican congressional leaders are seeking $70 billion worth of tax cuts in separate legislation.

Instead of asking Americans to pay today for the Iraq war and hurricane relief and reconstruction, the budget bill puts those worthy expenses on the national credit card. Passing the measure will shove the nation's children and grandchildren further into hock to Chinese and Japanese financiers.

And while plunging the nation deeper into debt, the bill would push the nation's less fortunate deeper into poverty.

Some 300,000 people will have to go without food stamps. The House bill authorizes new fees on low-income children when they get sick and seek medical care or buy prescription drugs. It also slashes federal funding for child support enforcement - making it more likely that more families will fall into poverty. It ratchets up welfare-to-work requirements while shrinking funds for the child care that clients need to get off and stay off public assistance.

All those cuts don't add up to the $21 billion of tax breaks now in the works for those collecting dividends and capital gains. More than half of those tax breaks will go to households making more than $1 million a year, according to the Tax Policy Center. Ninety percent of the benefits from the capital gains and dividends tax cut will go to those making at least $100,000 a year.

The final strike against the bill is all the nonfinancial legislative mischief buried within it. Drilling in Alaska's Arctic refuge wasn't the only case where a financial rationale was used to put controversial legislation into the budget bill.

It creates a new federal appeals court for the Western states. That's clearly a judicial matter, not a budgetary question. The most notorious new law buried in the bill is what might be called the Great Mining Land Claim Giveaway of 2005. Today, when mining companies find valuable minerals on federal land, they are only allowed to lease the property. The House bill allows companies to buy the public's land outright, at nominal prices that take no account of the mineral values. New claims could be staked and the full title purchased even if there aren't any mineral deposits. This blatant giveaway would open up a land rush in scenic spots on national forests and other federal lands.

Republican House leaders had to delay action on the budget bill because too many in their own ranks rebelled against the many excesses within it. Meanwhile, other Republicans have threatened to withhold their votes now that the ANWR drilling provision has been dropped.

With the ANWR provision included, the bill would have been a bitter pill for Alaskans. Without it, Alaskans can join responsible voices in the rest of the country and hope that the bill collapses under its own controversial weight.

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