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Veterans Benefits Cut

The U.S. House of Representatives approved billions of dollars in cuts to veterans' programs over the next 10 years—on the same day it unani-mously passed a resolution of “unequivocal support” for the nation's troops overseas. Proposed by President Bush as part of his 2004 budget plan, the reductions—estimated at $28 billion—would erode health-care benefits already stretched by other budget shortfalls, raise costs, and decrease veterans' access to medical care.

Voicing the dismay of representatives opposed to the measure, who narrowly lost the 215-212 vote in the Republican-controlled House, Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA) said, “These cuts to veterans' programs are indefensible. We are at war and our current troops will be our future veterans and this funding is inadequate, it's wrong, and it's an insult.”

Republican congressmen claim that Veterans Affairs spending will actually increase, but Democratic lawmakers say that would be true only if one ignores rising health care costs. According to Ashley Decker, writing in an article at Commondreams.org, the cuts could cause approximately half of all veterans to lose their only source of medical care and might prevent them from receiving their disability pensions. VA hospitals treated 4.2 million veterans in 2001, and 70 million Americans are potentially eligible for VA benefits.

The VA reductions were one of the ways that President Bush hopes to pay for his proposed $726 billion 10-year tax cut. This is the first time that any modern president has called for a decrease in taxes during wartime. A recent Associated Press poll found that 61 percent of Americans—including 56 percent of Republicans—thinks tax cuts should be delayed in the face of growing deficits and the cost of war in Iraq.

The House was thinking similarly when it recently trimmed Bush's tax cuts to $550 billion. In an unusual setback for a president at war, the Senate voted to cap the tax breaks at $350 billion.

Bush's budget proposal contained cuts in funding for other social ser-vices, including education, state funding, poverty relief, public housing, and law enforcement.

Although the plan raises overall education spending, 47 programs would be dropped, and funding is insufficient to support the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which President Bush signed into law last year. Among the cuts is a $400 million decrease in before- and after-school programs that would affect 500,000 children, despite a report produced for the national organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids that estimates the cuts would result in 41,000 crimes and cost taxpayers $2.4 billion.

Further stretching law-enforcement resources, the Bush budget proposal would slash funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services program, credited with reducing crime nationwide, from $1.4 billion to $164 million—a cut of 88 percent.
—David Smith

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