The Dishonest Debate

Article excerpt

Bush lied. About the cost of his tax cut. About who benefits. About his budget. He lied when he claimed he could throw money at the military, fund a prescription drug benefit, pass his tax cut and still not touch the Social Security surplus. And he's lying now as his budget office cooks the books to mask the fact that he's already dipping into the Social Security surplus--without counting the full cost of his military fantasies, or a decent drug benefit, or the inevitable tax and spending adjustments yet to come.

Democrats have every reason to rail about Bush's lies and to condemn his irresponsible tax cut--about a third of which will go to the wealthiest 1 percent (and for which, it should be noted, twelve Democratic senators voted). But Democrats are about to lock themselves in their own box with their posturing about the "raid on the Social Security trust fund."

There is no lockbox and no raid. The Social Security and Medicare trust funds are credited with bonds for every dollar of surplus whether the money is spent, given away in tax cuts or used to pay down the debt. Those bonds--the most secure investment in the world--can be redeemed when Social Security payments start to exceed payroll taxes. When the surpluses first showed up, Clinton invented the notion that paying down the debt would "save Social Security first" as a clever tactical ploy to fend off Republican tax cuts. With the economy growing and unemployment low, debt reduction had a threadbare rationale. But even then, Clinton was forfeiting a historic opportunity to argue for meeting vital needs: healthcare, housing, more classrooms and teachers, preschool for all. Now Democrats have turned Clinton's tactics into perverse principle. The trust fund surplus is "raided" if it doesn't go toward debt reduction. House minority leader Dick Gephardt argues that Bush should present a new budget--one with either less spending or more taxes.

But the world economy is teetering on the verge of a global recession. …