As Barack Obama and John McCain make one multibillion-dollar campaign promise after another, they doubtlessly realize that they can’t come close to fulfilling their pledges to provide new and extended tax cuts, tax credits, tax deductions, spending programs and other alluring voter bait.
The candidates’ overpromising is unseemly, but politically understandable. It increasingly seems that many American voters simply “can’t handle the truth” if told that the next president won’t be able to fulfill their wish that he become Santa Claus on the Potomac.
In 1984, Democrat Walter Mondale was clobbered by GOP President Ronald Reagan after telling Americans that tax increases would be needed to scale back large budget deficits. Mindful of that, Republican George H.W. Bush, when campaigning for president in 1988, told voters: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” He broke his no-new-taxes pledge after becoming president.
The latest hard evidence that neither Obama nor McCain will be able to deliver on many of their campaign promises came Tuesday from the lame-duck administration of President George W. Bush, whose popularity rating is only slightly above that of contaminated infant formula from China.
The administration said the federal budget deficit for the 2008 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was a record-high $454.8 billion, eclipsing the $413 billion shortfall in 2004.
But wait, that’s the good news.
The bad news is that the administration has projected that the deficit for fiscal 2009 will be another record-smasher, with $482 billion in red ink.
But wait, there’s even worse news: Some analysts say the 2009 deficit could be far higher than the administration’s forecast — possibly exceeding $700 billion as a result of the sharp downturn in the economy, protracted housing slump, hundreds of billions of dollars authorized for the financial bailout program approved by Congress and another “economic stimulus package” that might follow the $168 billion one implemented earlier this year.
American voters, here’s the truth, whether you can handle it or not: A painful combination of spending cuts and tax increases will be required in coming years if Washington simultaneously is going to deal with the bloated budget deficits and address the funding crises facing Social Security and Medicare.
The next president “will be inheriting a fiscal and economic mess of historic proportions,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., aptly noted on Tuesday.
Here’s a sobering fact: The first 42 U.S. presidents left us, after more than 200 years of governance, with an accumulated national debt of $5.7 trillion. Under the 43rd president — Bush, the current White House occupant — the debt has soared by an outrageous $4.6 trillion, to $10.3 trillion.
Fiscally reckless Bush
In other words, nearly 45 percent of the debt has been rung up just under Bush’s watch. The fiscally reckless Texan concocted a deadly deficit-swelling brew of excessive tax cuts and heavy federal spending accentuated by an unnecessary, very costly war in Iraq.
With an ugly recession looming, deficits piling up and the Social Security and Medicare tsunamis on the horizon, the next president won’t have any wiggle room left to enact major new spending initiatives or deliver on all his promises of lower taxes.
So what about McCain’s no-new-taxes vow that he made in February? If he wins an upset victory, can he avoid raising taxes, while maintaining his pledge to extend the Bush tax cuts?
If Obama wins, can he deliver on his pledge to cut taxes for 95 percent of working families?
Read my lips: No way, in either case.
Can you handle that?
X Jack Z. Smith is an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.