Bush W. and Jeb Bush drain surpluses and give tax breaks to top wealthiest-
Bush W. Flushes the Federal Surplus Down the DrainMarie Cocco http://www.newsday.com/news/opinion/ny-vpcoc232332872aug23.column August 23, 2001
THE '90s unofficially ended yesterday.
The proclamation came in a White House budget document that shows, at bottom, the economy is a mess and no one in the administration has any plan for it. The chosen course of action is to paper it over and hope for the best.
The Bush men covered up the gloom with a liberal sprinkling of accounting tricks - tinkering, for example, with a 65-year-old Social Security accounting method and the timing of corporate tax payments - to make it look like they haven't already dipped into the retirement trust fund. Then they added a dose of blind faith, assuming, as not even the most insufferable bulls on Wall Street now do, the economy will snap out of it any day now.
The general-fund surplus is gone. The Medicare hospital surplus - generated by payroll taxes that are supposed to be dedicated to Medicare - also is gone.
The Social Security surplus remains, for the moment, but whether every last billion is in fact still there is one of the accounting tricks to be argued about. That is a partisan dispute rather than an economic one. Really, a billion here or there doesn't have such a big effect.
The horror is not what this budget says. It's what's left unsaid.
There is, for example, an expectation that the administration's 10-year tax cut will expire in 2010 and with the expiration bring back a gush of revenue. The president is not pursuing this policy at all and fully intends to protect the tax cut from "those who would like to claw that money into federal hands," according to budget director Mitch Daniels.
There is no mention of the second, third, fourth, fifth - however many you like - installments of the planned defense buildup. The president boasts his build-up is to be the biggest and best since Ronald Reagan's. He hasn't put up the money for it, only for the sum his men keep calling the "first installment."
The down payment is itself in jeopardy. The congressional budget resolution - written when Republicans controlled both chambers - forbids even the first extra $18 billion for defense to be spent if it would mean dipping into Medicare and Social Security.
"I am precluded now from adding money for defense," said Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
Another big lie is the big row of zeros.
That is what the president marked down for future spending on emergency farm assistance. These are the bailouts Congress passes every year when farmers awake one dawn to discover they've again grown too much and prices are down.
The president signed this year's urgent farm bailout with a flourish fit for the Fourth of July: "It's necessary for our ranchers and our farmers," George W. Bush said as he doled out the $5.5 billion a mere eight days ago. "After all, farm families represent the best of America. They represent the values that have made this country unique and different - values of love of family, values of respect for nature ... values that we need to keep intact."
You can believe the president. Or you can believe his row of zeros. Or you can believe the congressional budget resolution, which has a zero in future farm payments because this happens to be the second digit in $70 billion.
You may believe there is plenty of money for Medicare prescription drug coverage, and for bolstering education spending, as Bush promised in the campaign. You may believe he can do all this while preserving the retirement programs and simultaneously paying down the national debt. You may believe, as the president claims, that the biggest threat to the evaporating surplus is now and always has been, "excessive federal spending."
Or you could look in the White House's own review and find out what really happened to the surplus since April. The tax-rebate took cash and so did a change in the timing of corporate-tax payments, a gimmick initially concocted to cover up a revenue drain from future years of the Bush tax cut. The economy's slide drained away more revenue. Not even the Bush budget office came up with a chart showing that spending blew this bank account.
The White House has shown only how fast and hard the economy and the federal budget have spun down. It takes no responsibility for this unfortunate mishap, and offers no way out of the tailspin. Copyright © 2001, Newsday, Inc.