Magazine article The American Prospect

Joker in Chief

Magazine article The American Prospect

Joker in Chief

Article excerpt

As federal deficits mount to record levels, President Bush now tells us there's light at the end of the tunnel. Not a bright light, mind you, but he does claim that his new budget plan, despite more huge tax cuts, will get the government's books halfway to balanced within five years. There are, however, a few major ifs: If you don't count spending for Iraq and Afghanistan. If you ignore the promised but unbudgeted fix for the alternative minimum tax (hugely expensive). If you expect Congress to slash domestic appropriations by about a quarter in real terms. And, apparently, if you assume that by 2009 we'll still be in Bush's "trifecta" (crappy economy, national emergency, war), so he's entitled to keep spending all the Social Security surplus.

This year, Bush says the federal government, outside of Social Security, will spend $1,939 billion but raise only $1,264 billion in revenues, for a deficit of $675 billion. More than a third of regular budget outlays will be financed with borrowed money.

Bush's assertion that he'll cut the deficit in half by 2009 includes the following explicit assumptions: Spending on defense and homeland security will fall by 14 percent as a share of the economy by 2009. Total domestic appropriations will plummet by 24 percent, with huge cuts in science (minus 19 percent), pollution control (minus 27 percent), transportation (minus 18 percent), disaster relief (minus 49 percent), education (minus 22 percent), housing assistance (minus 33 percent), and law enforcement (minus 20 percent). The alternative minimum tax will be fixed, but at no cost--rather than the $65 billion that even a modest correction would cost in 2009 alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Even with all these ridiculous assumptions, Bush's projected regular budget deficit for 2009 remains at $501 billion. He offsets that against the $263 billion he projects as Social Security's surplus that year. Voila! A "unified deficit" of a mere $237 billion.

Asked at a February press briefing if some of these premises aren't a bit questionable, Bush's budget director, Josh Bolten, feigned befuddlement. "The question confuses me," Bolten told reporters. "The budget we're presenting today is one that is, from my perspective, completely honest."

In reality, the budget outlook under Bush's policies is grim and getting grimmer. …

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