Bush's $5 Trillion Problem: Rising Deficit Troubles GOP ; Republican Party's Tenet of Small Government Has Run Up against a Surge in Domestic Spending, Plus War, Tax Cuts

By Gail Russell Chaddock writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Bush's $5 Trillion Problem: Rising Deficit Troubles GOP ; Republican Party's Tenet of Small Government Has Run Up against a Surge in Domestic Spending, Plus War, Tax Cuts


Gail Russell Chaddock writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Even before President Bush's next budget hits Capitol Hill, lawmakers even in his own party are mounting barricades against what many see as a spending binge that's settling into a habit.

The internal revolt, coming from dozens of Republican lawmakers, signals that Mr. Bush faces a rift within his own party over one of its core ideological tenets - smaller government - even as he faces growing criticism on the issue from Democratic presidential candidates.

Bush has not entirely dropped the goal of fiscal restraint. This week he called on Congress to "cut the deficit in half over the next five years." But to some observers, Bush and his party have been looking more like the party of big government than small. Behind the scenes, the GOP debate now is whether big spending has become the price of retaining political power in today's America - or an intolerable breach of the party's principles.

Most experts agree that recent forecasts of US fiscal health are alarming:

* Deficits are expected to reach or exceed $5 trillion over the next decade, according to new studies by groups ranging from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to Goldman Sachs.

* The federal budget deficit this year is expected to approach $500 billion. That's a record, although sustainable in the short term if the economy grows fast enough.

* The Medicare system is expected to go cash negative for the first time in 2015; Social Security in 2018.

"It's a system that's completely out of control, and it's an absolute disgrace," says Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, commenting on the runaway spending on Capitol Hill.

In his one reference to the deficit in this week's State of the Union address, President Bush promised to submit a budget that limits the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent and halve the deficit in five years. When he also urged lawmakers to make his tax cuts permanent, Republicans cheered. Democrats sat in stony silence.

"What we have here is an administration that has overseen the largest fiscal reversal in our nation's history.... Unless we change course, we are left with deficits as far as the eye can see," says Rep. John Spratt (D) of South Carolina, ranking member on the House Budget Committee, who pegs the cost of making tax cuts permanent at $2.5 trillion over 20 years.

Many Republicans worry that tax cuts without significant spending cuts cannot be sustained.

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