Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho ... these are the latest fronts in the battle of budgets, with the larger fight over a potential shutdown of the U.S. government looming. These fights, radiating out from the occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol building, are occurring against the backdrop of the two wars waged by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. No discussion or debate over budgets, over wages and pensions, over deficits, should happen without a clear presentation of the costs of these wars-and the incalculable benefits that ending them would bring.
President Barack Obama unleashed his proposed 2012 budget this week, pronouncing, proudly: "I've called for a freeze on annual domestic spending over the next five years. This freeze would cut the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, bringing this kind of spending -- domestic discretionary spending -- to its lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president."
Focus on the word "freeze." That is exactly what many people might do, if this budget passes as proposed. While defence spending increases, with the largest Pentagon funding request since World War II, the budget calls for cutting in half a program called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.
Canadian-based corporations are sitting on lots of excess cash. Many Canadians are looking for work, better jobs, or more hours. Large-scale public expenditure is going unfunded: shortages exist in infrastructure for urban transit, education, public health facilities, recreation, and culture.
The Harper Conservatives plan to give the corporations a tax reduction in the next budget, so they will get even more money to sit on. Will Canadians be better off because corporations pay income tax at a lower rate? Somebody must have thought so, because corporate taxes have been reduced over the last 10 years in Canada.
Can the opposition parties, primarily the NDP and the Liberals, actually get their act together and save the country from more destruction by the Harper Conservatives? There is evidence that there is at least some talking behind the scenes about the formation of a coalition government. Widely reported remarks by Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert suggest that Jean Chrétien and Ed Broadbent are talking. Bob Rae blogged last week on the 25th anniversary of the Ontario NDP/Liberal coalition government he was part of and ridiculed the Conservatives fear-mongering about the renewed "coalition threat." Reports that members of the Liberal caucus are eager for such a move are also being strategically leaked to the media.
With this first budget truly its own, the NDP government is finally setting sail in earnest after nearly a year of preparation, delays and mishaps. It's heading into very rough seas, but in one essential way this ship is better prepared than previous ones for the voyage.
It has to do with the crew. I don't know if I dare say outright that it's more motivated, but it's certainly less prone to mutiny. The budget has announced a 10 per cent cut in the civil service over the next four years and has scaled back public sector pensions -- and no angry demonstrations in front of the legislature! If it stays that way, this is a noteworthy political feat.
In its budget last week, the Charest government mounted an attack on the principle of universal access to healthcare: it wants to charges citizens for visits to hospitals. At the time they file income tax, someone with cancer, going for weekly treatments in Quebec would be dinged $25 for each visit. Over a 30-week period they would run up charges of $750, plus the annual fee.
The Canada Health Act embodies an idea. Healthcare should be available to all those who are sick and in need, not just to those who can pay for it.