Federal budget process only beginning
The process of establishing spending levels and preparing the appropriations bills for the federal government officially began on Monday, Feb. 7, when President Bush sent his FY 2006 budget proposal to Capitol Hill.
As with the budget process in previous years, the House of Representatives now enters the challenging phase of trying to meet the budget priorities of our country while at the same time keeping discretionary spending low and working towards elimination of the federal deficit.
At the outset, it is important to note that the budget submitted by the president is only a proposal outlining his fiscal goals for the next year. From this point, members of Congress will be working to draft their own version of the budget, which may or may not represent many of the same goals as the administration has set forth.
The administration's budget proposal contains some ambitious goals, all of which are intended to move the government toward the president's objective of cutting the deficit in half by 2009.
In its present form, the FY 2006 budget calls for a reduction of nearly one percent in non-security discretionary spending, representing a savings of more than $20 billion in the next year alone. Additionally, defense spending will increase 4.8 percent, bringing the total increase in that area to 41 percent since 2001. Homeland security spending (in areas not included in the defense portion of the budget) will also increase by 8 percent.
Nearly every federal agency, sub-agency and government-funded program you could imagine is included in this budget proposal, and to try and go into detail on everything it includes would be nearly impossible.
However, the House takes a very careful look at every aspect of the president's budget, and there will be numerous hearings held in the weeks ahead. The Budget Committee on which I serve is already holding its first hearings; in the past week alone, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Joshua Bolten gave testimony justifying the president's fiscal objectives for the coming year.
Because we are still early in this process, a great deal of work remains before the budget process for FY 2006 is brought to an end. However, as I participate in further hearings and in the drafting of the House budget resolution, I will continue to keep one important thought in mind.
I strongly believe that more than anything else, the one thing we in Congress can do for our constituents as effective stewards of the money you send to Washington is to be fiscally responsible and cut wasteful spending.
The path we take to the elimination of deficit spending is a long one, and I don't think anyone will tell you that achieving that goal will be easy. However, as your representative in Washington I will continue to do all I can to ensure we balance the needs of the American people and the government's legitimate obligations with maintaining a strong level of fiscal responsibility.
Further democratic reforms in the Middle East
On Thursday morning this past week, as I was reading the daily edition of the Washington Post, I ran across a story of some extreme significance, and yet it was a story that some major media outlets chose to keep off of the front page.
In Saudi Arabia, a country ruled for generations by the al Saud royal family, elections were being held for the first time ever for positions on local councils in towns throughout the nation. It is not a sweeping election cycle, as all councils and local representatives will not be chosen in this process. And voting participation will be limited, as women in Saudi Arabia still do not have the right to vote.
What is remarkable and the biggest part of this story is that the elections are even being held. The al Saud family has ruled for many years with a firm hand, and efforts to bring a form of democratization into the Saudi political process have often been dealt with swiftly and harshly.
It is gratifying to see that the move toward free elections is taking place in yet another nation in the Middle East. While the Saudi process is still in its very early stages, this does provide some degree of hope that further reforms will take place, and an even greater number of Saudi citizens will be able to participate in future elections.
At the same time as these elections, another nation experiencing the birth of freedom is taking further steps to remove itself from its horrible past. Currently, final preparations are underway for the trials of Saddam Hussein and his former henchmen due to begin later this year. Unlike other major war crimes trials, these will not be conducted by an international tribunal or held at The Hague.
Instead, the Iraqi people themselves, with some support from legal experts from the United States and other nations will be conducting these trials. A nation that only two years earlier was living under the oppressive heel of dictatorship is taking responsibility for bringing that regime to justice.
The advances made in that region of the world in just a short period of time are indeed remarkable, and I for one look forward with interest to watching what further changes take place in the years ahead.
Jo Bonner represents Southwest Alabama in the U.S. House of Representatives.