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Juggling books can't hide federal budget problems



Published: Mon, August 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The disappearing budget deficit can't be blamed entirely on the tax cuts that were the centerpiece of the new Bush administration, but President Bush can't pretend they weren't a factor, try as he might.

It's the economy, once again. The days of irrational exuberance are over, and some economists are even starting to talk about a recession.

But not at the White House. Six months ago, the White House was more than happy to talk about how bad the economy was -- the fault, of course, of the outgoing Clinton administration. Now White House aides --they're the only ones left at the White House this month -- seem almost ready to break into a rousing chorus of "Happy Days Are Here Again."

To hear the White House tell it, we're looking at a period of strong, steady growth, a time when government will be able to pay all its bills and it will never, ever dip into Social Security. At least not in the next two months, now that a dandy piece of creative accounting found $4.2 billion to shift from one side of the books to the other.

It's a "more honest" way of keeping track of the government's money, said an administration spokesman. Never mind that past administrations seemed to balance or not balance their budgets based on the old methodology.

The Democrats and the Republicans can bicker over what caused the precipitous drop in the projected surplus until the cows come home. Our concern is simply that the surplus has been frittered away, through a combination of tax cuts., undisciplined spending and an economic downtown.

Eye on the debt: Our position has been consistent. The Republicans and the Democrats should have continued to do everything they could to maintain a budget surplus and to use that surplus to pay down the national debt. The debt is an enormous drag on the economy. Not only does it require tax dollars to make the interest payments, but it drives up interest rates and makes less money available for private sector reinvestment.

That simple economic fact seems to have been lost in a sea of partisan rhetoric.

A majority of the American people has consistently recognized in recent years that the national debt was a national disgrace, and that it was the responsibility of Washington to address the problem.

A rallying cry for the tax cut was that it was our money and we were entitled to get it back. But in ignoring the need to reduce the national debt, we are not spending our money. We are spending the money of our children and grandchildren , because they're the ones who will some day have to pay the bill.




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