PRESIDENT Bush is a glib salesman for his massive tax-cut program. But a closer look at the numbers should prompt Congress to be careful.
For a conservative Republican, the president is using very rosy revenue forecasts. The numbers he's using understate the cost of ongoing programs. He's ignoring the extra cash needed for his other proposals and congressional initiatives, such as a prescription-drug plan. He hasn't factored in spending to fix the Social Security and Medicare programs.
Mr. Bush is promising more in tax cuts than this country can probably afford. He calls it a $1.6 trillion plan, but other analysts say the true cost is closer to $2.5 trillion. And that amount may not be affordable, even if large surpluses pour in for a decade.
Congressional leaders would be wise to listen to David M. Walker, who heads the General Accounting Office on Capitol Hill. He said this week that "no one should design tax or spending policy pegged to the precise numbers in any 10-year forecast."
Yet this is what President Bush is doing. It's a mistake Congress shouldn't duplicate.
Will there be a tax cut this year? Yes, indeed. The momentum is there. But the size of the president's proposal is unrealistic. And, sadly, some Republicans are talking about adding even more to it in the form of capital gains tax cuts and business tax reductions.
If there is to be a tax cut, Congress should see that it is more tilted toward those at the lower and middle ranges of the income scale than the president's proposal. Prudence is essential in handling future surpluses that might never occur. And there must be enough left on the table to deal with other pressing needs, such as modernizing the military and making repairs to old-age programs.
Mr. Bush has raised expectations, but Congress still must carefully examine every aspect of this major proposal. We all want smaller tax bills, but only if they are reasonable and responsible.