Message to Senate: Look before you leap

Budget resolution: GOP rush to jam through Bush's tax cuts ignores yet-to-be released budget details.

April 06, 2001

IT'S ALWAYS wise to make sure there's water in the pool before you jump off the diving board.

Yet the Bush administration has convinced Republicans in Congress they can safely take that leap without checking the pool's water level.

Such hasty moves can be dangerous to the nation's health.

The Republican-controlled House has brusquely shoved aside all Democratic protests and given President Bush what he wants -- an extensive across-the-board tax cut, a costly plan to reduce the so-called marriage-penalty tax and gradual elimination of the estate tax for the well-to-do.

House leaders have a large enough majority to ram through their leader's tax-relief program. But in the evenly split Senate, GOP leaders are getting wobbly trying to walk that same budget tightrope.

That's because the Bush administration wants Congress to approve its budget resolution before budget details are released next week. That strikes us as a bit odd -- sort of like buying an expensive house without having laid eyes on it.

The budget resolution is nonbinding, but it is the framework for the rest of Congress' financing decisions this year. Setting aside too much for tax cuts could mean major reductions in favored social programs.

Already there are complaints that the president is sharply cutting environmental programs and energy-conservation efforts to make room for tax reductions. The same holds true in agriculture, law enforcement and immigration. Lawmakers are worried about too little for education as well.

And yet Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is determined to give the president what he wants today, though it may take a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Cheney.

Senators may regret this quick vote. They are blindly backing a tax-cut plan that may have ramifications they find distasteful.

And with the economy edging closer toward recession, the size of the Bush tax-relief effort is a concern. It erodes government's revenue base at a time when demand could grow for government services as jobless claims increase.

Meanwhile, that projected $5.6 trillion surplus over 10 years -- the foundation for Mr. Bush's tax cuts -- could drastically shrink if the economy continues to stall.

All this argues for a more cautious approach. It would be the conservative thing to do. Slowing down the Bush express train would be prudent legislating.

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