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Published: Monday, 7/17/2006

Same old deficit fiction

He's doing it again. For the third straight year, President Bush is using his own peculiar brand of fuzzy math to convince the public that his tax cuts have reduced the federal budget deficit.

But repeating a tall tale doesn't make it true. And that's the case with the President's latest assertion about this year's deficit, which is expected to hit $296 billion, $127 billion less than the administration's estimate in February of $423 billion.

It's a game the White House plays, projecting unrealistically high deficits so that the actual figures will look good by comparison. Any increase in federal revenues is optimistically credited to the tax cuts.

But the real budget story is far from rosy. Depending on what the numbers show on Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, the 2006 deficit could be the fourth largest in U.S. history.

Most of those record negative numbers have been piled up on Mr. Bush's watch, a tribute not only to revenue losses from his first-term tax cuts but to an unbridled spending spree by the Republican-led Congress that even dwarfs the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top deficits all-time so far are $412.7 billion in 2004; $377.6 billion in 2003; $318.3 billion in 2005, and $290.3 billion in 1992, at the end of his father's presidency.

But here is Mr. Bush claiming "an economic resurgence that's now in its 18th quarter. Economic growth fueled by tax relief has sent our tax revenues soaring."

Even if that were true - independent economists say revenues are up but not as far as economic history would predict - the future is what counts. And the future, budget-wise, is bleak. Long-term deficits, which pile up crushing debt costs for future generations, do matter.

Moreover, economic benefits from the tax cuts are only a myth to most Americans. Even the White House admits that the revenue increase is due primarily to larger corporate profits and major jumps in income of the rich - the chief beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts.

Stoked by tax cuts and deficit spending, the real fiscal crisis will hit the fan in about two years, when the first Baby Boomers become eligible to collect Social Security benefits.

It's no coincidence that Mr. Bush will be leaving office about that time.

Like the Iraq war - another handy piece of administration fiction - a solution to the budget mess will be left to future presidents and the burden to the American people.



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