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Published: Thursday, 2/17/2005

The 'Hawk' flies again

FLAP, flap flap, flap flap flap, flap.

That's George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, gaining altitude in what for him has become an occasional appearance as a member of that rare and unprotected species in the United States Senate, the deficit hawk.

Roosting with reporters on Capitol Hill the other day, Mr. Voinovich warned the Bush Administration that he will help block the President's attempt to make permanent his tax cuts for the rich. The former governor, who exhibits a maverick streak now and then, even vowed to vote against the President's budget, if that would stop the tax cuts.

We expect Mr. Voinovich to keep his promise because only a coalition of Democrats and clear-headed Republicans in the Senate can stop the administration's ill-advised tax cuts from perpetually looting the federal treasury.

The tax cuts, enacted during President Bush's first term, begin to expire at the end of this year, a process that will continue through 2010. Provisions in the President's budget, just sent to Congress, would extend them permanently.

The cost to the federal treasury of these cuts looms in sums so large that most people cannot even comprehend them. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities puts the tab so far at $819 billion.

The combined cost of cuts already in place and extension of the others through the next decade would be $5.1 trillion (that's $5.1 trillion with a T).

Looking beyond, the center said, the cost of making the cuts permanent would be three to six times the size of the Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years. That's an enormous amount of money, made even more incredible by the fact that the government already is borrowing the money to give it back as tax cuts.

Moreover, most of the tax cuts wouldn't take effect until after Mr. Bush is conveniently gone from office, about the time millions of Baby Boomers begin to retire en masse, with all the attendant costs of pensions and health care.

What permanent extension of the tax cuts would mean ultimately would be the inability of the federal government to provide vital public services, a situation made worse each year by crippling budget deficits and crushing additions to the national debt.

While President Bush looks to reduce veterans benefits, community development block grants for cities like Toledo, education funding, and medical care for the poor and elderly - the spending cuts in this year's budget - it is important not to lose sight of the larger picture.

Self-styled "deficit hawks" such as George Voinovich may be the last best hope to stop the administration's fateful rush toward fiscal suicide.

However, that's going to take more than just one rare bird from Ohio creating a flap. It's going to require a whole flock.



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