Feature

The deficit grows

President Bush proposed a $3.1 trillion budget that would make his tax cuts permanent. It's "sobering" to compare $410 billion deficit in Bush's last budget to the surpluses he inherited. "Lost amid the faux political outrage," said Th

What happenedPresident Bush presented Congress a $3.1 trillion budget proposal on Monday that would make Bush’s tax cuts permanent. The spending plan would boost the federal deficit to $410 billion in 2008. The White House attributed the near-record deficit to the $150 billion economic stimulus package supported by Bush and congressional leaders from both parties. (Tribune’s The Swamp blog)

What the commentators saidIt’s “sobering” to compare Bush’s last budget to his first, said The Washington Post in an editorial (free registration). “Seven long years ago,” the new president “grappled with the supposed challenge of dealing with a projected surplus of $5.6 trillion over the next decade.” But the surplus “evaporated” and turned into a huge deficit as Bush slashed taxes without making spending cuts to pay for war spending, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and other huge bills.

“Lost amid the faux political outrage” about the deficit is the role the president’s critics had in creating it, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. With the budget gap already set to climb to $219 billion “thanks to slower economic growth and faster spending,” a bipartisan mob on Capitol Hill resolved to push through $150 billion in politically expedient tax rebates that will “do little” to stimulate the economy. “Deploring the deficit” while “applauding the stimulus” that is driving it is not a serious way to address the country’s problems.

Bush is not exactly grabbing the bull by the horns, either, said USA Today in an editorial. In his State of the Union address, Bush vowed to veto any bill that failed to cut by half all earmarks—“those often wasteful pet projects stuck into spending bills.” That’s a worthy goal, but eliminating every earmark Congress approved last year would only shave $15 billion from the deficit. “That grand gesture would pay for what the nation spends in Iraq in just six weeks. In the pie chart of federal spending, earmarks don't even merit a slice.”

Bush's budget has "little chance of surviving in a Democratic Congress," said Steven R. Weisman in The New York Times (free registration), but it spells out tough choices on tax cuts and reining in retirement and health spending that the next president will face.

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