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War or Healthcare?

John Simkin

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Ewen MacAskill in Washington

Tuesday February 6, 2007

The Guardian

President George Bush is proposing to slash medical care for the poor and elderly to meet the soaring cost of the Iraq war.

Mr Bush's $2.9 trillion (£1.5 trillion) budget, sent to Congress yesterday, includes $100bn extra for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for this year, on top of $70bn already allocated by Congress and $141.7bn next year. He is planning an 11.3% increase for the Pentagon. Spending on the Iraq war is destined to top the total cost of the 13-year war in Vietnam.

The huge rise in military spending is paid for by a squeeze on domestic programmes, including $66bn in cuts over five years to Medicare, the healthcare scheme for the elderly, and $12bn from the Medicaid healthcare scheme for the poor.

Mr Bush said: "Today we submit a budget to the United States Congress that shows we can balance the budget in five years without raising taxes ... Our priority is to protect the American people. And our priority is to make sure our troops have what it takes to do their jobs."

Although Democrats control Congress and have promised careful scrutiny of the budget over the next few months, Mr Bush has left in them in a bind, unwilling to withhold funds for US troops on the frontline. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said the days when Mr Bush could expect a blank cheque for the wars were over but she also insisted the Democrats would not deny troops the money they needed. Democrats could block Mr Bush's proposed cuts to 141 domestic programmes.

John Spratt, the Democratic chairman of the House budget committee, said: "I doubt that Democrats will support this budget and, frankly, I will be surprised if Republicans rally around it either."

Kent Conrad, the Democratic chairman of the Senate budget committee, said: "The president's budget is filled with debt and deception, disconnected from reality, and continues to move America in the wrong direction. This administration has the worst fiscal record in history and this budget does nothing to change that."

The Vietnam war cost about $614bn at today's prices. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Iraq war has so far cost $500bn. About 90% of the spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars goes to Iraq. In addition to the spending on Iraq and Afghanistan this year and next, Mr Bush is seeking $50bn for 2009.

Mr Bush said the fact there was no projected figure for 2010 did not mean he expected US troops to be out of Iraq by then. He said he did not want to set a timetable "because we don't want to send mixed signals to an enemy or to a struggling democracy or to our troops".

Included in the budget is $5.6bn for the extra 21,500 US troops that Mr Bush ordered to Iraq last month. Some Democrats have threatened to withhold this part of the budget but more than half of the troops are in place with the others on the way. A plan to build the Joint Strike Aircraft has been withheld. Its absence, at the request of the Pentagon, could have a knock-on effect for jobs in the UK.

In the run-up to the invasion in 2003, the Pentagon's projected estimate of the total cost of the war was $50bn. A White House economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, was fired by President Bush when he suggested that the total cost would be $200bn.

The New York Times noted that the cost of the war would have paid for universal healthcare in the US, nursery education for all three and four-year-olds in the country, immunisation for children round the world against a host of diseases, and still leave about half of the money left over.

The Pentagon has long complained that it is overstretched. Mr Bush wants to raise its budget from $600.3bn to $624.6bn for 2008 - about 20% of the total budget.

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"In the weeks before the 1950 budget, further pressure was applied on the Cabinet by their civil service advisers. Morrison was advised that 'unless the Government can show that it knows how to adopt a pace of development of the Health Service which the national economy can bear, something will have to go before long'. The Treasury had come to the conclusion that the economy was overloaded, and that by elimination, the only avenue open to substantial economies was the health service. This analysis came a year after supplementary estimates totalling £50 million were expected in health. Supplementary expenditures on the defence budget for that year were £62 million."

From my PhD...

When the choice is welfare or warfare, there really never has been much of a contest. In 1950s Britain the choice was to fight CP or TB. There was only one the elites really cared about defeating.

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