Thursday, February 09, 2006

Drowning By Budget Numbers

I'm spending a few minutes this evening going through some particulars of the Bush Admin. 2007 proposed budget, while also contemplating today's NY Times story by James Glanz entitled "Iraq Utlities Are Falling Short of Prewar Performance" (reg. req.). I find the numbers numbing as usual, but also interesting.

First, large snippets from the article (sorry they are large snippets, but the whole article is chock full of assorted madness)...

"Virtually every measure of the performance of Iraq's oil, electricity, water and sewerage sectors has fallen below preinvasion values even though $16 billion of American taxpayer money has already been disbursed in the Iraq reconstruction program, several government witnesses said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday.

This downsizing of expectations was striking given that $30 billion American taxpayer money has already been dedicated to the task... Of that money, $23 billion has already been obligated to specific rebuilding contracts, and $16 billion of that amount has been disbursed.

... another $40 billion in Iraqi oil money and seized assets of Saddam Hussein regime was also made available for reconstruction and other tasks at one time or another. Last week, Robert J. Stein Jr., one of four former United States government officials in Iraq who have been arrested in a bribery and kickback scheme involving that money, pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Mr. Bowen (Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office) pointed out in his testimony that the news on reconstruction in Iraq is not all bad. Despite the recent financing and performance shortfalls, the rebuilding program now seems to be much less ridden by fraud, corruption and chaos than it was in the early days when people like Mr. Stein were in charge."


Of course I suggest you read the entire article, especially if you want to experience the mental equivalent of slamming your head into a concrete wall repeatedly for several hours. Bewildering stuff. Stuff that is just about worth the use of horribly overused terms like "shocking" "unbelievable" and "Orwellian".

But watching Administration Budget Director Joshua Bolton on C-SPAN yesterday got me thinking about the Iraq story in a different way. What if we take the "$30 billion in American taxpayer money already dedicated to the task" of Iraq rebuilding and compare it with allocations for this and that in the Bush proposed budget?

For instance, that $30 billion equals over four times the proposed 2007 discretionary budget authority of the Environmental Protection Agency ($7.3 billion), is almost two times the 2006 NASA budget of $16.8 billion and just about equals the budgets of the federal Departments of Labor ($10.9 billion), Transportation ($13.2 billion) and the Interior ($10.1 billion) combined.

Hell, the $30 billion is every bit as large as our own "Homeland Security" Department, ($30.9 billion when you take the Defense overlap portion out of it).

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the requested cuts to non-DoD departments in the budget proposal equal $10.7 billion. That means the absolutely essential we gotta have it right this second belt-tightening in the budget could be avoided three times over if we just didn't have this $30 billion going to Iraq.

When faced with these numbers you don't have to be a "Don't Tread on Me" "Live Free or Die" whack-job Libertarian/Isolationist to ask the simple question: What the Hell is going on here? The President proposes cutting domestic programs pretty much across the board, while Iraq reconstruction gets $30 billion despite the fact that it hasn't worked for squat so far?

And we're not even talking about the obscenely larger amount going to the military aspects of the occupation, only the guilt money couch change we're inadequately scraping together to appear humanitarian ex post smart bombo facto. The paradox of how a huge amount like $30 billion can be thought of as inadequate doesn't make sense on many levels, but is based on the fact that trying to play a kid's dream combination of "Political Tooth Fairy" and "Army Men" on a massive scale is expensive to the point of lunacy.

It's hard to see how anybody of any political stripe wouldn't be pissed off after taking a look at these numbers. Conservatives know down deep in their frugal hearts that this Iraq spending is insanity. Many Moderates can't like that even the overly optimistic Administration deficit estimates don't reach anywhere close to zero by even 2011. Liberals and other Moderates abhor the cuts in domestic programs. And the "Don't Tread on Me" Libertarian/Isolationists are probably stocking up on ammunition and heading for the secret compound at this point.

I don't really have a cute closer to this...just look at the article here and the budget proposal tables here. There's really nothing at all cute about them.

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