Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bush's budget math doesn't add up

Dave Zweifel

Politicians like to manipulate numbers when it comes to justifying their positions on taxes and spending, but our president definitely needs to be crowned the champion manipulator just by virtue of his State of the Union speech last week.

Regardless of what one thought of his Iraq strategy or even his convoluted health care plan, the worst was his pronouncement that his policies will produce a balanced budget by the year 2012.

Indeed, the budget deficit today is about half of what had been predicted last year, but first let's put things in perspective. Our country is still running more than $200 billion in the red every year when just six years ago it was showing a surplus. Our national debt has now ballooned to $8.7 trillion, about 55 percent higher than it was when George Bush took office.

The Congressional Budget Office agrees that the budget could be balanced by 2012, but that assumes that Congress will let President Bush's tax cuts expire in 2010 along with many of the corporate tax breaks enacted by the Republican Congresses of the past 12 years. It also assumes that nothing will be done with the increasingly unpopular alternative minimum tax which was once aimed at millionaires but now catches many in the middle class.

And guess who is fighting against allowing the tax cuts to expire? The same guy, of course, who contends we're on course toward a balanced budget. Is that an incredible game or what?

According to a piece in the New York Times that ran a few days after the speech, an official in the budget office said that if the tax cuts are extended, the cost to the U.S. treasury would be $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. The impact on the deficit in the year 2017 alone would be more than $400 billion.

South Carolina Democratic Rep. John Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee, told the newspaper that it is far too early to cheer any of the budget news. Rather, he added, it's a "bleak reminder of how much current policy will need to be changed to return the budget to a fiscally responsible course."

Further, none of Bush's rosy predictions consider increased spending for the war in Iraq. The logistical support for those 21,500 new soldiers isn't going to be free.

It wasn't hard to predict, though, that the president's talk was going to be a little hard to figure. At the very beginning he called on the now Democratic-controlled Congress to do away with the expensive practice of attaching "earmarks" to spending bills to send billions of dollars of extra money to pet projects back home, often without even identifying the member of Congress who proposed the earmark.

Funny, he never asked Congress to stop that practice in the days when his own party controlled both Houses and could have easily done something about it. Perhaps that's because the Republicans perfected the idea.

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