The Deficit Is in the Details

We welcome the President’s newfound commitment to a balanced budget, but his comments make us wary. They suggest that his budget will still embody the policies that led to the largest deficits in history. Under these policies, a ten-year surplus of $5.6 trillion became a ten-year deficit of $3 trillion. The President claims that his next budget will break out of that pattern and move to balance by 2012. But it is essential to know what his budget does and does not include.

For example, what does the budget assume with respect to our deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan after 2007? The Congressional Budget Office assumes a gradual draw-down to 55,000 troops in both theaters and estimates the ten-year cost at $483 billion.

Or what does the budget propose as a fix to the alternative minimum tax so that it does not come down on middle-income families for whom it was never intended? The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a reasonable fix will reduce revenues by $641 billion over the next ten years.

The deficit, like the devil, lies in details such as these. We will simply have to scrutinize the President’s budget when it comes next month to see if the rhetoric matches reality.

On the Clinton Administration’s watch, Democrats balanced the budget for the first time in thirty years, and in 2001, we handed President Bush a budget in surplus by $236 billion the year before. Last year, with deficits hovering around $300 billion, Democrats brought to the House floor a budget resolution that would have accomplished what the President now proposes: a balanced budget by 2012.