Budget sense -- and nonsense

Clinton, Bush agree: Rescuing Social Security and Medicare must come before talk of tax cuts.

July 16, 1999

REPUBLICANS in Congress have their budget priorities reversed: Tax cuts should come last, not first.

If they're confused on this point, they should ask the clear front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination next year, Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- or the current occupant of the White House, Democrat Bill Clinton.

Both of these officials spoke out Wednesday in opposition to the drive by House and Senate Republicans to enact gigantic tax cuts that would consume much of the expected budget surpluses over the next 10 years.

Mr. Bush, during campaign stops in Virginia and in Baltimore, said Congress first must fix Social Security and Medicare and boost defense spending. Tax cuts should be considered, Mr. Bush added, "If there is any money left over. . ."

The president was more pointed in his speech to the Democratic Leadership Council in Baltimore. The Republicans' plans "could wreck our economy," bringing back large budget deficits without fixing the troubled Social Security and Medicare programs.

Both men overlook another key fact: Much of the assumed budget surplus over the next 10 years may never materialize. Even respected forecasters in the Congressional Budget Office have trouble predicting what the budget picture will resemble six or 12 months from now. Why should 10-year estimates be given credence?

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examined CBO's 10-year surplus numbers and found the actual surplus available for tax cuts or other uses would be a little over $100 billion, not $1 trillion.

Domestic spending would have to be slashed by 30 percent to pay for the GOP tax cuts. Defense spending couldn't be increased. There would be no money to pay for emergencies -- floods, crop disasters or military action in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans. And no money to stave off the insolvency of Medicare.

GOP leaders in Congress ought to reassess their unrealistic tax-cut programs -- a $792 billion Senate plan and an $864 billion House version. They are pipe dreams that won't pass muster with the president, the leading Republican presidential candidate, or with the American people.

Pub Date: 7/16/99

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