Trading political jabs won't solve fiscal crisis

Wrong pledge: Vowing not to raise taxes is bad policy, politics for nation's leaders.

January 08, 2002

IT WAS LESS than four months ago that President Bush embraced Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on the floor of the House of Representatives, underscoring the need for unity and support for the war on terrorism.

But now they're back to their squabbling, trading barbs over the federal deficit and how to stimulate the economy. The era of bipartisanship may be rapidly approaching its twilight.

While partisanship isn't always a bad thing, the kind of posturing leaders on both sides have recently adopted only makes it more difficult to deal with the country's deteriorating fiscal condition, stagnant economy and other domestic priorities such as energy and health care policy and welfare reform.

George Herbert Walker Bush saw his popularity shrivel after the gulf war because he seemed to have no domestic agenda. His son, George W., has rightly sought to address issues such as taxes and the economy even as he leads the war on terror. Yet his pledge on Saturday that "not over my dead body will they raise your taxes" is only too obviously reminiscent of his father's ill-advised 1988 vow: "Read my lips - no new taxes."

Raising taxes now, in the midst of a recession, probably isn't good policy. But, with the federal budget facing years of red ink in the wake of the $1.35 trillion tax cut the president sponsored last summer, categorically ruling out new taxes for the foreseeable future is neither good policy nor, as the president's father learned, good politics.

Moreover, the president's continuing support for further large, long-term tax cuts as a response to today's short-term recession is a prescription for fiscal disaster.

At the same time, Democratic leaders, including Mr. Daschle, seem more eager to blame the president for the nation's fiscal woes (even as they reject tax hikes and support new spending) than to articulate sensible responses to the deficits.

Do they want new taxes? Do they have other solutions? So far, they haven't said - and that's no more helpful than the president's anti-tax tirade.

In this election year, both parties seem to think they have something to gain from the politics of blame. The better approach would be to come together on sensible fiscal policies; then they could squabble over who deserves the credit, rather than the blame.

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