March 18, 2005

A BUDGET BLUEPRINT

Editorial by Senator Crapo

Budget season is challenging, especially in lean years. Yet, these challenges inspire us to craft a comprehensive, responsible blueprint to allocate federal tax dollarsâ??one that meets our needs and reduces future indebtedness. The Fiscal Year 2006 Senate Budget Resolution provides for our nationâ??s defense, young people, seniors, vital infrastructure, energy security and agriculture. These initial steps have laid groundwork for important discussions in upcoming weeks. We have a responsibility to taxpayers to make sure that our answer to budget dilemmas is not higher taxes. Protecting tax cuts and freezing non-defense and homeland security discretionary spending goes a long way toward allocating our hard-earned money wisely and prevents us from passing on record debt to our children and grandchildren. Currently, entitlement spending is on autopilot at over 55 percent of the entire budget. With the terror threat, defense and homeland security have the most of the spending â??wiggle roomâ?? this year. Discretionary spending is at low to no-growth levels. In the context of an unacceptable budget deficit and the economic stimulus provided by tax cuts, the budget resolution moves toward implementing important spending priorities. While retaining the goal of cutting the deficit in half within five years, the budget resolution maintains budget discipline and extends tax cuts which have fueled the recent economic expansion. It is possible to exercise fiscal discipline and preserve our nationâ??s economy and security. Increased defense spending augments the quality of materials and equipment our armed forces use. Protection here at home is equally important, and the small increase in homeland security spending will help local, state and federal law enforcement better prepare for emergencies, enforce immigration and customs laws, and monitor drug traffickingâ??all critical elements of homeland security.Education expenditures in the United States now exceed defense spending (only Switzerland spends more). Title I grants will increase $4.6 billion--52 percent over 2001 levels. IDEA grants will increase to levels 75 percent higher than in 2001. 138,000 more students will receive Pell Grants this year.Agriculture is a crucial component of our nationâ??s economic security. It means jobs, a secure food supply, and continuation of a fair and lucrative trade environment. Savings from agriculture programs is reasonable. Through my efforts in the Budget Committee, the resolution doesnâ??t eliminate support for university-based agriculture and forestry research programs. Veterans spending also takes a more responsible approach. Both the new enrollment fee and increased drug co-pays in the Administrationâ??s proposal have been removed. Additional funds have been approved for prosthetics and mental health services. Money has been provided to increase disability claims staffing. Since 2001, veteransâ?? medical care spending has increased 44.8 percent. The Budget Resolution includes funding for a national energy policy, including continuing research and development of Generation IV nuclear power vital to the mission of the Idaho National Lab, but removes the proposed adjustment to market rates for power supplied by Bonneville Power Administration. In the upcoming weeks, we must focus on the big picture. We must retain provisions which reduce the growth rate of mandatory spending, as well as those that make it more difficult for Congress to recklessly increase spending or pass unfunded mandates on to the states. Once Congress has passed a responsible budget, I will work on the next phase in this annual process. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I look forward to reviewing the budget components under its jurisdiction, including tax relief and spending restraint in the massive entitlement programs. We must transform commonsense Idaho budgetary priorities--tax relief, deficit reduction and responsible resource allocation--into meaningful policy decisions for the nation.