Thursday, Mar. 12 2009 @ 4:38PM
The global financial crisis seemed to take us by surprise, and now the fallout and drive toward recovery are daunting, but if we'd been looking in all directions, especially behind us, we might have been able to at least brace for the impact.
The legend on rear-view mirrors is in fact true: "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear." Go back a year, when George W. Bush was about to drop a steaming load of his legacy on our heads.
We weren't quite sure that we had a financial crisis — other than the usual one — when the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities unveiled on March 8, 2008, its "Federal Spending, 2001 Through 2008" report.
As if we need a reminder of how Bush and the country's real CEO, Dick Cheney, settled the guns vs. butter debate in their own heads, the report noted that "Bush called for large funding increases for defense and related programs while demanding considerable restraint in domestic appropriations."
We spent eight years under an administration that valued defense firms more than the public. We're paying for that right now.
Delving deeper into the topic, the report — written by people who, unlike most members of Congress, actually pore through and parse the budget figures — added:
Between fiscal year 2001 (the last year for which appropriations levels were set under President Clinton) and fiscal year 2008, funding for domestic discretionary programs has been more constrained than any other area of the budget and has shrunk both as a share of the budget and as a share of the economy. In contrast, appropriations for defense and other security-related programs have increased more rapidly than any other area of the budget — even more rapidly than the costs of the "big three" entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
You think that's because of 9/11? It's not. Take a look at the graphic atop this item; it's plucked from the report. To repeat what the preceding paragraph and the graphic say: The "regular" Department of Defense budget — not counting Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the "war on terror" — rose at a higher rate than those of all parts of the domestic budget.
This was the kind of careless spending that helps make this year's budget decisions so tough: Even without the current global financial crisis, our budget was out of whack and worsening.
Making up ground during this crisis is practically impossible, especially with a recalcitrant Congress that seems to want to protect the tax status of the wealthiest 1 percent of the populace.
But at least Barack Obama's administration recently proposed tax aid that might actually reach many of the rest of us. Like the Making Work Pay Credit — awkwardly named but aimed at more than 100 million American taxpayers. Here's a brief rundown of this part of the economic-recovery package. Don't count on its surviving intact, but here it was as of late last month:
Tax credits in the economic recovery package provide tax relief to most workers. The centerpiece of the tax relief is a new Making Work Pay Credit of up to $400 per worker. The credit phases in at the same rate as Social Security taxes and is available to all workers (except those claimed as another taxpayer's dependent) earning up to $95,000 and married couples earning up to $190,000. In 2009, the credit would be reduced by the amount (if any) of the family's Economic Recovery Payment, a one-time payment of $250 for recipients of Social Security, SSI, and certain other benefits.
As many as 6.8 million New Yorkers would qualify — we're third behind the 12.4 million Californians and 8 million Texans who would get help this way.
George W. Bush himself undoubtedly won't qualify. More importantly, defense firms like Northrop are obviously ineligible because they're not human beings, but they're doing pretty well anyway, despite the planetary crisis.
If you figure that the defense industry is actually doing pretty well while the rest of the economy is tanking, then it stands to reason that defense firms will have plenty of money for lobbying and for campaign contributions to pols.
And they're not going to be pushing for the domestic budget, of course. That probably makes the survival of such budget morsels as the Making Work Pay Credit problematic, especially if you go by past history.