Commuters may have to dig deeper into their pockets to get to work, farmers might have to work longer hours during the spring planting season and veterans could see a hike in health-care costs under the 2006 federal budget officially unveiled by President Bush on Monday.
Overall, the $2.57 trillion spending package seeks to reduce or eliminate 150 programs to get a better handle on an escalating budget deficit, an effort complicated by the war in Iraq and the president’s desire to reform Social Security.
Here’s a look at proposed cuts that affect many Americans:
The proposal eliminates the federal subsidy afforded Amtrak, the only rail service with national scope. It received $1.2 billion in 2005 despite the administration’s hope of scaling it back. This year the budget proposes only $360 million for capital investment.
“Amtrak remains just one more government bailout away from bankruptcy even though federal and state subsidies are ballooning way beyond reason,” said Joseph Vranich, a member of the Amtrak Reform Council.
The National Railroad Passenger Corp. reported that Amtrak carried more than 24 million passengers last year, most of them on routes in the Northeast and West Coast. Amtrak has relied on federal help since its creation in 1971.
The budget calls for increasing the security fee on each round-trip airline ticket from $5 to $11 to cover the costs of passenger and baggage screening . James May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, said the industry doesn’t understand how the proposal jibes with the Bush administration’s tax-cut philosophy.
“A tax on travelers is a tax on airlines,” May said. “Any new tax or fee raises ticket prices and the cost of airlines doing business. Under this budget proposal, U.S. airlines appear to be the only business in America that the administration has chosen to tax back to economic health.”
The budget cuts $587 million from farm price supports, reducing payments to farmers by 5 percent and reducing the payment ceiling from $360,000 to $250,000.
High-income veterans looking to take advantage of the Department of Veteran Affairs health-care system and who do not have service-connected illnesses or injuries are being asked to pay a $250 annual fee to use the VA. Service traditionally has been free. The president also wants to increase prescription drug co-payments from $7 to $15 for a 30-day drug supply.
The changes would affect 2 million veterans.
“The message that this budget communicates is that part of the federal government’s deficit will be balanced on the backs of military veterans, because it’s clear that the proper funding of veterans’ health care and other programs is not an administration priority,” said John Furgess, commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The budget proposal could trumpet a return to days when vets had to wait six months to see a doctor, Furgess said.
“That is especially shameful during a time of war,” he said.
Families that like to visit national parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon may not find things quite as pristine. The budget would cut nearly 3 percent from the budget for the National Park Service, reducing it to about $2.25 billion.
(E-mail Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com.)