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Budget hysterics.

There's a hysteria sweeping Washington, the balanced-budget hysteria. And like all hysterias, this one is based on falsehoods and is bound to do grave damage.

The Republicans in the House and in the Senate have succeeded in persuading the American people that the budget deficit is growing so fast that it is going to overwhelm our children and our grandchildren.

That's not true. The deficit is not growing rapidly right now. And it is not jeopardizing the health of the American economy. Our deficit as a proportion of our gross domestic product is holding steady, and our debt burden is smaller than almost any other advanced industrial country. The U.S. government is in no danger whatsoever of going bankrupt. We are one of the most attractive markets in the world for investors.

But the hysterics have won the day. The Republicans have voted to slash at least $1 trillion in federal spending over the next seven years. And Democrats joined them in this folly. (The three Democratic Senators to vote along with the Republicans were Charles Robb of Virginia, Sam Nunn of Georgia, and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, Democratic powerbrokers all.)

On sheer economic grounds, these cuts, and not the deficit itself, will have catastrophic consequences. Government spending creates jobs. When you slash government spending, you slash jobs. Even the Republicans admit, when pressed, that their budget-cutting will increase unemployment by 750,000 jobs and bring the economy to a screeching halt.

Then there's the way in which these cuts are going to be made. The Republicans are swinging the axe wildly at any social program in sight. Medicare will lose more than $250 billion; Medicaid more than $175 billion. Welfare, food stamps, child nutrition, disability insurance, college loans, job training - all will be slashed.

"The poor are being asked to bear a large share of the burden of this economic program," Isabel Sawhill of the Urban Institute told The Washington Post. That newspaper conducted an in-depth study of the winners and the losers. Its conclusion: "The tax and spending cuts moving through Congress are likely to reduce the after-tax incomes of American families at the bottom of the economic ladder."

Meanwhile, the Republicans are not cutting corporate welfare. Instead, they're adding to it, offering more tax cuts to private companies and the rich. The House has $353 billion in cuts; the Senate, $170 billion, and they're going to hash out the difference over the next few weeks.

The Republicans have also placed entire federal agencies on the chopping block, and have proposed gutting many others. But there's one agency that's not even getting nicked. And that's the Pentagon. President Clinton had proposed keeping Pentagon spending constant at about $258 billion a year, an amount that far exceeds our true defense needs. But even Clinton's bloated Pentagon is not bloated enough. Republicans in the House, joined by many Democrats, voted to throw an additional $9 billion into the Pentagon's maw this year alone.

The House proposed additional spending on a new and improved Seawolf nuclear-attack submarine, and on the B-2 Stealth bomber, a boondoggle that is seemingly indestructible. The House also tossed in money for Star Wars, and for standard-issue pork for the arms companies, including more transport ships.

The only place the House wanted to trim Pentagon spending was in areas that actually might do some good. The House proposed cutting $300 million that was earmarked for cleaning up toxic contamination at U.S. military bases, and $200 million for cleaning up radiation leaks at the Department of Energy's nuclear-weapons labs. It also proposed slashing $300 million that was supposed to go toward adapting America's armaments industry for civilian use. No risk of that now.

The problem with the distorted spending priorities is economic, as well as social. A dollar spent on building bombs does not help the economy as much as a dollar spent on education, or energy conservation, or mass transit - investments that are labor-intensive and ripple through local economies. Ironically, a large part of our federal deficit resulted from the inefficient military spending of the Reagan and Bush years; we now spend nearly 10 percent more in real terms on the military than we did in 1980, and if the Republicans have their way, this will grow even more out of proportion.

The real question about deficit spending should be about social and economic priorities, not simply size. But the Republicans, and their Democratic allies, don't like to talk about priorities, even though theirs are patently obvious.

The hysteria about the deficit is a political ploy designed by conservatives and corporate interests to justify vicious cuts in domestic spending and to hack away at government regulations on the private sector.

It's part of the general assault on government itself, and on the belief that the people should have any say over their economic lives. The Republicans want the government completely out of fiscal policy, the one area that elected officials - and by extension, the voters - can control. But the Republicans want the big decisions about the economy out of the voters' hands - and into the laps of the Federal Reserve Board and the Fortune 500.

The deficit will not sink the economy; slashing the deficit will - or at least it will sink those in the smallest boats. And it will sink the hopes of those who want to impose some semblance of democratic control over our economic system.

Bosnia Bog

President Clinton is drawing the United States closer and closer to calamity in Bosnia. Under pressure from both William Safire and Anthony Lewis, Clinton pushed for U.N. airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs. When this predictably backfired, and the Serbs took U.N. peacekeepers hostage, Clinton said he was prepared to send U.S. troops not only to rescue the U.N. mission but to reinforce it.

This brings the United States to the brink of war in Central Europe. Like other U.S. interventions, it is an undeclared war - an unconstitutional arrogation of power by the President. By now, you'd have thought we would have learned the lessons of Korea and Vietnam, but apparently not.

Looks like we might have to learn them all over again.

The crisis in Bosnia does tug at any moral person. The Bosnian Muslims were trying to exercise their right of self-determination when they broke off from part of what used to be Yugoslavia. And they have been the victims of grotesque human-rights abuses carried out systematically by the Serbs.

But U.S. intervention will not solve the problem.

Here at The Progressive, we oppose U.S. intervention abroad as a matter of principle. The United States is not the savior on a white horse. In the last fifty years, U.S. wars and meddlings abroad have cost millions of lives.

Bosnia may just add to the toll. As in most cases in this century, the virtues of military action are inflated. Sending in U.S. troops would not automatically end the crisis.

In fact, it's likely to harden the resolve of the Bosnian Serbs to keep fighting. And it's unlikely to induce Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to recognize Bosnia, which was the thrust of U.S. policy before the airstrikes. It may aggravate the situation even further and threaten a regionalization of the conflict. Anyone who recalls the start of World War I should look on this possibility and despair.

For reference, the historian Gabriel Kolko has a new book out, Century of War.- Politics, Conflicts, and Society Since 1914. "Those who have guided and run the world's warring nations throughout this century have, in varying degrees, been inherently ignorant of what they were doing in terms of both their ability to manage the processes of war as well as insight into the grave consequences of their decisions," he writes. "Well-ordered arguments and logic for the illogical, and the consummate irresponsibility of playing with the lives of anonymous people who are either sent off to die or will be engulfed in battles, become the rule for a self-contained leadership that in each nation feeds itself information that in the end reflects its desires, interests, and illusions."

It is tempting - oh, so tempting - for a superpower to see war-making as the easy answer. It's not. It's the hard problem. And we haven't yet begun to wrestle with it.

Refuge for Women

The Immigration and Naturalization Service finally announced in May that it will recognize rape and other forms of violence against women as grounds for political asylum. Advocates for women refugees have been pushing the United States to recognize gender-related persecution for years.

As Miriam Davidson reported in The Progressive ("Second-class Refugees," May 1994), asylum officers and immigration judges in this country had failed to consider gender-specific crimes, including sexual assault, genital mutilation, dowry murders, and arrest for violating restrictions on dress and behavior as worthy of refugee status: "Instead, these crimes are considered 'acts of random violence,' or 'private,' or 'culturally related.'"

Davidson reported on the case of Marta Ramirez, who was brutally raped by Salvadoran soldiers when she was thirteen. The soldiers came looking for Ramirez's cousin, a guerrilla, who wasn't home. They beat Ramirez, burned her with cigarettes, and raped her. When she was twenty-one years old, soldiers killed her common-law husband - also a guerrilla. When she heard that they were looking for her, Ramirez fled to the United States and applied for political asylum, despite the fact that the United States had traditionally turned down other applications like hers.

Ramirez's case is still pending. But her lawyers have welcomed the recent decision by the INS, saying that it may help her plea.

In a related case, the Board of Immigration Appeals recently overturned a decision regarding a Haitian woman who was raped by a gang of soldiers because she supported President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The immigration judge who first heard the woman's appeal denied her asylum, saying that the rape was not a form of political persecution.

"In the past, sexual abuse had been largely viewed by the [INS] and immigration courts as a private act, even when committed by soldiers or government officials," The New York Times reported. But under the new guidelines, "The whole atmosphere for women has changed," Deborah Anker, a founding member of the Women Refugees Project at Harvard Law School, told the Times.

At last, the United States has recognized that human rights apply to women, too.
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Title Annotation:federal budget
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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