Couple interesting pieces that basically say neither Bush nor Kerry would do anything to help the deficit. I'm a bit incredulous of the precise numbers, but I can't argue that I think Bush has been spending wisely, nor do I think Kerry's plans would do anything for the deficit. What do you think?
Bush, Kerry and their best friend, the deficit
Leave existing laws and policies in place and the deficit would dwindle to a mere $228 billion. For that, we certainly don't need a president.
Published August 19, 2004
The budget surplus is gone, federal spending is out of control and the government is swimming in debt. But, to coin a phrase, help is on the way. President Bush and Sen. John Kerry both promise that in the next four years, they will cut this year's $445 billion federal budget deficit in half.
To which serious students of the budget reply: Big, fat, hairy deal. The vow is only slightly more risky than promising that four years from now, everyone will be four years older. All the next president needs to do to cut the deficit in half, you see, is ... nothing. Leave existing laws and policies in place, without changing a thing, and the deficit would dwindle to a mere $228 billion. For that, we don't need a president.
Kerry and Bush, to be fair, do not propose to do nothing. They have all sorts of plans to shower citizens with new spending programs and tax cuts, even though we can't pay for the ones we've got. But they insist they can hand out these goodies while making big advances against the deficit--Bush by cracking down on new spending, Kerry by repealing tax cuts for the rich.
To assume they'll actually attack the deficit requires a suspension of disbelief. The Bush who says he'll hold down domestic outlays, after all, is the same Bush who has never vetoed a spending bill, or any other bill--the first president with that dubious distinction since James Garfield, who had the excuse of being mortally wounded by an assassin after only four months in office.
It's also the same Bush who has been happy to lay out funds for the invasion of Iraq, Medicare prescription drug coverage and the most extravagant farm bill ever. Under his stewardship, notes the Cato Institute, domestic non-defense discretionary spending has risen by 5.8 percent per year (over and above inflation). That's more than triple the rate of growth under President Bill Clinton. Expecting Bush to cut or even contain spending is like expecting the pope to endorse polygamy.
Kerry is more believable only because he doesn't even feign interest in spending discipline. The National Taxpayers Union Foundation estimates that all his promises would raise annual federal outlays by $226 billion a year.
Some of this would be paid for by repealing some of the Bush tax cuts, but much of it would come from piling up debt for our children and grandchildren. The anti-deficit Concord Coalition figures that based on their public commitments, either Bush or Kerry would enlarge the projected deficit over the next 10 years by about $1.3 trillion.
Even their meager promise to halve the deficit rests on the sort of accounting that got Enron in trouble. Bush's blueprint doesn't include the $50 billion he plans to request for the occupation of Iraq over the next year--and it assumes we won't spend anything in Iraq after that. Kerry, in a show of bipartisanship, makes the same convenient but ridiculous assumption.
The truth is, we'll be burning cash in Iraq for a long time. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers expects American troops to remain there for five more years.
Nor does either candidate figure in the cost of reforming the Alternative Minimum Tax. It was designed to make sure a few wealthy taxpayers don't escape paying federal income taxes, but because it's not indexed for inflation, it now threatens to snare one out of every five taxpayers in a large and unintended tax increase.
The prevailing assumption is that Congress and the president will have to take action to limit the impact of the Alternative Minimum Tax or face mobs of citizens carrying lengths of rope. But fixing the problem is expected to cost about $500 billion in revenue over the next decade--adding to the deficit.
It's hard to believe that in 2001, the federal government was not only living within its means, but also paying down the national debt. For four consecutive years, starting in 1998, it ran a budget surplus. That was one of the greatest achievements of the 1990s, one shared by a Democratic president and a Republican Congress.
Yet today, it has the quality of a lovely dream that evaporates as soon as you wake up. In this campaign, despite a growing economy, neither candidate even pretends to be trying to balance the budget. Here's a question both should have to answer: Three years ago, we had a surplus. Why are you against bringing it back?
Friday, Aug. 20, 2004
Bush v. Kerry on the Deficit
Both candidates have plans for dealing with our fiscal mess. But neither are addressing the real problems
By PERRY BACON JR.
John Kerry uses all the right terms for a solution, complaining of "deficits as far as the eye can see" and promising to restore "fiscal responsibility" and "pay as you go" principles." George W. Bush correctly diagnoses some of the causes: a slowing post-dotcom economy, the Sept. 11 attacks, several corporate scandals and fighting two wars.
The problem, experts say, is that neither candidate truly has a plan to rein in America's burgeoning budget deficit which currently sits at more than $400 billion. Both campaigns offer budget plans that hide costs or assume savings that are unlikely to occur, while adding more than $1 trillion of new spending. And while each candidate promises to cut the deficit in half over the next four years, the issue ranks low on their priority list.
It wasn't that long ago when the federal budget was balanced. In 1992, spurred by Ross Perot's relentless campaigning on the issue, then Gov. Clinton promised to reduce the deficit if he were elected. As President, his economic advisers pushed him towards this goal, and Clinton shelved some of his campaign proposals, such as a middle class tax cut, to balance the budget and instead raised taxes as president, adding a gas tax that affected everyone and a higher income tax on the wealthy. The budget balancing effort was helped by the divided government that started in 1994 when voters handed the Republicans leadership of Congress that ran through the end of Clinton's term. The GOP stopped Clinton from huge spending on popular Democratic ideas like health care, but the President also stopped Republicans from passing large tax cuts. Federal and state governments also collected more tax revenue during the dot-com boom.
As a result, when President Bush, entered office, the budget had a surplus of more than $200 billion. But as Bush often notes, the economic slowdown reduced government revenues and the wars following Sept. 11 meant huge increases in defense and homeland security spending. Still, almost a quarter of the deficit, according to several studies, comes from the series of tax cuts passed over the last three years, first reductions on individual income taxes and then cuts in taxes on estates and income from stock dividends.
Many fiscal conservatives in Bush's party have expressed their displeasure about the deficit. And the President?s support of a $500 billion expansion of the Medicare program last year added to that frustration. But from both a political and policy standpoint, Bush's moves may have been smart. Voters consistently say they want the deficit reduced, but improving the economy and expanding health care are always more popular ideas. Many economists agree that Bush's tax cuts, especially the reductions on individual income taxes in 2001, helped the economy recover from a short recession, even if they added to the deficit. And politically, while focusing on the deficit may have helped Clinton, it didn't improve the fortunes of a candidate Bush knows even better: his father. In 1991, George H.W. Bush, after promising when he ran for president not to raise taxes, approved an increase to help balance the budget. That angered the right wing of the Republican Party, and Bush's son has vowed not to repeat that mistake.
In his campaign, Bush rarely discusses deficit reduction as an issue, choosing to say that America has had more important priorities over the last four years: improving the economy through tax cuts and fighting the wars. He has pledged to cut the deficit by half over the next four years, mainly with increased economic growth bringing in more tax revenues and holding down spending, except for homeland security and defense. But Bush's chief campaign promise is to make permanent all the tax cuts he has signed as president, many of which are set to expire over the next decade. That won?t be cheap; it will cost an estimated $1.2 trillion, and budget experts say Bush?s projections don?t include many costs, such as continued spending on the wars and assume Congress will hold down costs on many other domestic programs like education.
For his part, Kerry talks constantly about fiscal responsibility. Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury Secretary who is so widely praised for his emphasis on budget balancing that his policies are now dubbed "Rubinomics" has been a very public advocate of Kerry, even sitting beside his wife Teresa at the Democratic National Convention. In Kerry's speech, he noted his desire to restore "pay as you go" rules, which means that the government will try to spend only what it takes in. And in a change from past campaigns, Kerry advisers usually list specific ways in which programs pay for each other, such as expanding nation service but enacting reform on student loans that would save the government money.
But would Kerry?s money-saving plans really work? Despite the right advisers and phrases, Kerry's budget doesn't show the discipline of his talk. Kerry advisers propose a health plan of more than $900 billion dollars, but say more than $300 in cost reductions will result in a slimmer $650 billion tab. Experts question whether the Kerry campaign can truly save $300 billion by changes such as improved medical technology. Other Kerry plans require cuts in "corporate welfare" that aren't spelled out specifically. Kerry proposes to roll back tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 each, which would raise an estimated $800 billion that Kerry could spend on education and health care. But Kerry also supports more than $400 billion in tax cuts, keeping Bush's tax reductions on middle class Americans, and throwing in new ones, such as a $4,000 tuition tax credit for families sending a child to college. And Kerry doesn?t apply his "pay-go" rule to his support of the Bush middle-class tax cuts.
Like Bush, Kerry spends about $1.2 trillion dollars and doesn?t include costs for the war and other likely expenses. ?What he's saying is that even though I?m criticizing Bush, I've got the same goal he does," says Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan Washington group that focuses on deficit reduction. "Kerry does a good job explaining why deficits matter, but I think the actual numbers he's putting out don't necessarily match the rhetoric."
The lackluster deficit debate in the campaign has some budget experts wishing they could find another big-eared billionaire to play up the issue. "I wish we had Ross Perot running," said Len Burman, a senior analyst at the Urban Institute. The biggest problem, they say, is the future. So far, the higher inflation that economists fear from high deficits hasn't happened. But in 2008, the baby boomer generation turns 62 and becomes eligible for Social Security. It will be important for whoever is president then to start getting the federal books in order before a mass of retirees hits. Kerry and Bush aren't even really addressing the current problem, and they have even less to say about the future.