Do you like comic books? Ever read the funny papers? Well this year, the Bushies took a stab (actually, a machete) at producing a brand new federal budget, and hey, it’s fun for kids from 8 to 80!

Unless you happen to actually be either 8 or 80. Because this slash and burn budget, complete with color pictures, cartoons, snazzy little charts and drawings, is one comic book that’s not too funny. It falls into the category of doing something unmentionable on your face and calling it rain. In short, it does to federal programs what Gale Norton would like to do to our environment. Consider the following examples:

There’s a photograph of a little old lady sitting in her kitchen with a big smile on her face and prescription bottle in her hand. She’s touting the administration’s prescription drug benefit plan, which promises $190 billion over 10 years. The problem is that even Republican Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, one of the president’s closest allies on the Hill, is calling for $300 billion over the same 10 years. And before including him in your prayers, remember that the best estimates are that the full funding of prescription drug benefits would run $1 trillion over the same period.

If that little old lady knew what was falling on her face, believe me, she wouldn’t be smiling.

Everybody loves animal pictures and the Bush administration thought you would too. So this year’s budget comics includes a photograph of a golden-cheeked warbler while a nearby caption assures you that part of the department’s mission is protecting songbirds.

But the department’s mission emphatically does not include protecting another endangered species – the dollars necessary to protect truly endangered species. In fact, the Bush budget cuts 25 percent of the money for protecting such animals. So my advice is that if you like having golden-cheeked yellow songbirds around, get a copy of the budget, cut out the photo and paste it in your scrapbook – because that’s the last golden warbler you may ever see.

There’s another barrel of laughs in the Old Wine In New Bottles section. There’s a photograph of a California windmill from a Bureau of Land Management Program. The only problem is that that windmill has been around for over 10 years. In the meantime, the only thing blowin’ in the wind is the Interior Department’s budget – slashed $400 million, which falls 7 percent short of what is probably needed just to maintain existing services.

Plagiarism has been in the news lately, and the Bushies even included (unintentionally) a section about it. Remember Gore, and his “Reinventing Government” program, designed to introduce efficiency into federal programs without dismantling the government? The only thing that the Bush administration reinvents is the name – it’s now called “Freedom to Manage,” and comes complete with a cartoon showing Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians, who represent cumbersome restraints on efficiency. A new cartoon, yes, but the same old program simply renamed. Only this time, they didn’t footnote Al Gore.

Here’s a real ha-ha. Remember the joke that defines chutzpah as a kid who kills his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan? Well this budget does the same thing, and insults your intelligence to boot.

It rates government agencies, not with an intelligent discussion about merits but rather with a little traffic light showing green, yellow or red to indicate good, bad or so-so. The only problem is, that like the kid who killed his parents, the Bush budget deprives many of these agencies of the money they need to do their jobs right – and then blames them when they can’t! Talk about chutzpah.

Let’s talk some more about chutzpah. One of the first photographs in this budget depicts relief workers delivering food on a raft. It just warms your heart. Until you consider that this year’s foreign-aid budget, as a percentage of the whole, is the lowest since World War II. And we’re supposed to be in a war to win the hearts and minds of the world?

Finally, no Republican budget is complete without hyper-inflated defense spending on projects that don’t work, let alone defend anything. Like the $2 billion proposed for the V-22 Osprey Tilt Rotor aircraft. In the year 2000 it crashed twice and killed more American soldiers (23) than we’ve lost so far in Afghanistan. In fact, this year, the entire defense budget will approach the $400 billion level.

You know, the world could use a few good comic books. But there’s nothing about this one that’s funny.

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