An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
July 14, 2005
The White House budget office, in an exercise called a mid-session review, estimated that this year's budget deficit will drop to $333 billion, far less than the $427 billion it forecast in February. That jibes with Congress' figures that actually show it a little better, $325 billion.
The good news was largely because of unexpectedly high tax receipts and a slight decline in federal outlays. The White House attributed that to the president's "tax cuts and pro-growth policies." And, if the economy performs to White House projections, the deficit will drop to $162 billion in 2009.
"These numbers indicate that we're going to cut the deficit in half faster than the year 2009 - so long as Congress holds the line on spending," the president said.
Ah, spending. There's the catch.
In his first term, Bush struck an implicit bargain with Congress. As long as the president got his programs, the lawmakers could spend what they wanted and they did. Federal spending went up by one-third.
Alarmed by the accumulating deficits, Bush sent Congress an austerity budget this year with actual cuts in non-security related spending and holding the overall increase in federal spending to less than the rate of inflation. Congress largely agreed to go along in its budget resolution.
But unlike Bush, who will never face another election, the members of Congress do and political realities are intruding on the budgetary good intentions. Thus, Congress has been adding money to education, labor, health and veterans' programs.
That's the short-term. "Where we have a serious structural problem is in the longer period - to look out 15, 20 years," said White House budget director Josh Bolton. "That's where we face an enormous challenge from huge unfunded liabilities in our entitlement programs. And nothing we do on the taxing or spending side can really alter the trajectory of that."
In other words, if Congress needs a crisis to galvanize it into reforming Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, it's going to get one. And a $94 billion reduction in the projected deficit will look like a terribly inconsequential achievement.
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