Don’t politicians’ arms ever get tired from the exertion of patting themselves on the back?

Granted, as a question it is not up there with “What is life?” But I was taught that self-congratulation is unseemly and praise is something best left to others to bestow on you, if they so choose.

It is no coincidence that the question arises, however, in the wake of the vote in the House that approved cutbacks in the budget to the tune of $39.5 billion.

After some very intense lobbying, the bill passed by the overwhelming margin of two votes, 216-214.

Nonetheless, that did not stop Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., from saying that the House’s action was “a step toward restoring public confidence in the fiscal integrity of our national legislature.”

Really, Mike?

It may appear that way to the esteemed congressman from the great state of Indiana, but I can’t help but think it’s going to take a lot more than this smarmy budget-cutting gesture to restore the confidence that our elected representatives have squandered.

Ordinarily, $39.5 billion would seem like a lot of money to most people. But to this Congress, it’s peanuts. A mere burp in relation to the federal budget; a hiccup in relation to the country’s GDP; a blink in relation to what we’ve poured into Iraq over the last few years; a scintilla in relation to the amount that has been run up in tax cuts since 2001.

Nonetheless, the bill is a triumph in some eyes because most of the cuts come at the expense of the poor, the sick, the old and the student population.

Thus, some $6.4 billion of the cuts are in the Medicare program, including a freeze in payments to home health care providers. Another $4.8 billion will be lopped out of spending over the next five years by trimming Medicaid outlays for prescription drugs and increasing co-pays.

And then there are the higher rates for student loans, both PLUS and Stafford, that the bill mandates. Now, that’s what I call investing in the future.

President Bush is of course looking forward to signing the legislation and said after the House passed the bill that his budget proposal, which would be sent over to Capitol Hill soon, “will continue to build on the spending restraint we have achieved.”

Part of what is upsetting about this charade is that these same politicians who are crowing about making these cuts are the very same ones who already have spent the money elsewhere (at least in their heads) by aiming to set in concrete the tax cuts that are only temporary in past tax-cutting legislation.

So, the reality is the money won’t be saved, i.e., won’t be reflected in the budget deficit coming down. What will happen is the pain will be shifted onto the backs of one segment of society while the proceeds will go into the pockets of another segment.

This sentiment was expressed by one representative, Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., who originally voted for the bill but changed his vote this time around. He said, according to The New York Times, he was “very concerned about how the legislation reduces funding for mental health and education as well as important health care areas that will ultimately target our nation’s most needy citizens.” Well said, congressman.

The old adage that “the rich get richer” did not always necessarily mean that “the poor get poorer” the way it does today. That’s why the self-congratulation going on about this bill is not only dispiriting. It’s disgusting.

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief