That'll teach 'em.
Last month, the nation's governors came to Washington complaining about inadequate federal funding for the states. But states are about to find it much harder to make this complaint -- because the Bush administration has decided to stop publishing the budget report that states use to see what money they are, or aren't, getting from Washington.
The White House's Office of Management and Budget is discontinuing the annual report called "Budget Information for States" -- the primary federal document reporting how much states get under each federal program. In fiscal 2003, the report ran 422 pages. In 2002, it was 415 pages.
And for fiscal 2004? "The volume will not be produced this year," said Trent Duffy, OMB's spokesman. He said the change will reduce the cost of "paper and producing another volume."
State advocates are displeased. "There's no one place in the public domain for this information anymore," said Alysoun McLaughlin of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "You can't get that comprehensive picture anymore."
Democrats say it's an effort to conceal cuts the administration is making in popular programs. "George Bush's credibility problem has reached a truly embarrassing level: Instead of being honest with states about the huge budget cuts he proposes, he prefers to desperately hide the facts by no longer printing them," said David Sirota, spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.
Not so, Duffy responded. The information will continue to be available "in a different mode" from the various agencies. "If that [concealment] was the motivation, it didn't work," he said.
The report's demise comes amid a feud between Washington and state capitals. States are facing budget shortfalls of about $30 billion this year and $82 billion next year. States say they want about $20 billion from the federal government, but President Bush proposed no direct aid to the states in his $726 billion 11-year economic plan.
Bush, appearing before the National Governors Association on Feb. 24, said his 2004 budget proposes $400 billion in grants to the states, and "that's a 9 percent increase." He pointed out that "that's a bigger increase than 4 percent," which is the growth he proposed for overall spending.
But according to Bush budget documents, the $398.8 billion the administration proposes for state and local grants in 2004 is an increase of 3.8 percent from 2003 -- less than Bush's overall budget increase. And if you take out the Medicaid health plan for the poor, an entitlement program with automatic spending levels, Bush's budget actually proposes a 2.4 percent decrease.
Because the increase for states comes from swelling claims for Medicaid, "essentially they are bragging about the effects of their own recession," Sirota said.
The OMB's Duffy said that because of "technical errata," Bush's budget understated state grants, which are actually proposed to be $406.6 billion for 2004. Even then, the increase is 5.8 percent and without Medicaid a 1.1 percent increase.
Duffy said Bush's 9 percent claim was based on averages since he became president. Acknowledging that the non-Medicaid increase Bush proposed for states was 1.1 percent, Duffy added: "Taking out Medicaid from an aid-to-the-states story is like taking Jim Morrison out of a story on the Doors."
An organizing principle of the Bush administration is that principles don't change -- because as spokesman Ari Fleischer has said, "Once the principle changes in one case, it makes it easier to change in the next case."
Yet last week Bush amended one of the principles for restructuring Medicare that the administration offered nearly two years ago. In July 2001, the White House stated as the third of three principles, "Today's beneficiaries and those approaching retirement should have the option of keeping the traditional plan with no changes."
But when restating those principles last week, the new version said only, "Beneficiaries should have the option of keeping the traditional plan with no changes." The change is potentially vast. By dropping the qualifier about "today's beneficiaries and those approaching retirement," Bush appears to be extending the guarantee of "no changes" to Medicare beneficiaries in perpetuity. That guarantee would make the proposal more popular but eliminate most hope of improving Medicare's long-term solvency -- another Bush principle.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan declined to say whether the change in language indicated a change in principle. "The framework is consistent with what he has previously said," the spokesman said.
"He denied he had these weapons, and then he destroys things he says he never had."
-- White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, March 3, referring to Saddam Hussein's destruction of Al Samoud missiles.
"In the missile area, Iraq has declared the development of a missile known as the Al Samoud, which uses components from an imported surface-to-air missile."
-- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, Dec. 19.