Doggone Budget Doggerel

In high political aeries
There's much palaver, one can see,
On bringing more transparency
To governmental budgetry.

Less sleight of hand would worthy be
And also less opacity,
Yet recent actions convey to me
Scarce hope of fiscal sanity.

The bard could wax on about the unconscionable behavior of those who run our fiscal policy, there being enough to inspire a Swift or Moliere. But lest verse induce the urge to doze, this column now reverts to prose.

Our legislature has given up on passing 10 of the 12 usual appropriations bills for fiscal 2007. The Republican-led Congress didn't stay in session long enough to do it; and after the elections, incoming Democrats announced they'd resort to a yearlong continuing resolution holding most domestic agencies to the same amounts they'd spent in fiscal 2006. This blunt-edged approach to the spending of $463 billion admits to few exceptional needs and disproportionately pinches agencies with heavy personnel costs like the FBI and the Government Accountability Office. With pay increases set for 2.2 percent, agencies with large payrolls will have to offset these and other unavoidable cost increases with cuts on the order of 10 percent in travel and training, delayed contracts and perhaps even through furloughs.

Democratic leaders have announced a laudable moratorium on earmarks until a more transparent process is put into place, and "pay as you go" rules meant to keep deficits from growing. But procedural steps are not enough, and the Democrats' most significant pledge is to reduce the bite of the alternative minimum tax at huge cost-up to $1 trillion over 10 years.

There's plenty to be outraged about in parts of the budget that have seen appropriations enacted-notably those funding defense. The administration continues to insist on using huge supplementals for war funding, and this year the services have a green light to include money not directly attributable to the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. As a result, close to $200 billion of the defense budget will be spared the scrutiny that normally accompanies congressional budgeting action.

Then there's the biggest problem of all: the looming crises in Medicare and Social Security. Barring a miracle, Congress will do nothing about this in the next two years. So we go on borrowing and sinking our children deeper into debt. It's enough to drive one to doggerel.

As I wrote last month, my recent visit to CENTCOM left me profoundly impressed with the troops we have deployed in the region. Far from home, in tough and dangerous jobs, they deserve our support no matter what we may think about the war. For ideas, have a look at America Supports You, a program to recognize and spread the word of efforts by citizens groups, companies and others to help the troops in the field and at home. Find out more online at www.americasupportsyou.mil. And while you're at it, send a card to one of our troops abroad, through the good offices of Xerox Corp., at www.letssaythanks.com.

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