The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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March 13, 2008

Our View: Budget debate is unrealistic

Democrats want more spending on popular programs and tax cuts for the poor. Republicans want tax cuts for the poor, the wealthy, and on capital gains. Once again, spring training has begun for those charged with hashing out the federal budget.

Both budget proposals would continue to produce federal deficits for at least the next two to three years. A Republican plan to keep Bush tax cuts after 2010, would produce deficits years after that.

But a needed dose of reality is missing from both plans. The budget watchdog, non-partisan Concord Coalition says both parties are basing budget estimates on unrealistic assumptions.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have proposed spending that is $210 billion to $276 billion more than the president has proposed. But the Concord Coalition says the president’s budget is not a good comparison to congressional plans because the president’s budget freezes non-defense discretionary spending for five years, something that has never been done. The group also notes the president’s budget would put non-defense discretionary spending at 2.8 percent of GDP, an all time low, and 25 percent below the figure of 2007.

The Democratic budget is not much more realistic. Budget estimates in the Senate and House show discretionary spending increasing 1.5 to 2.1 percent per year, a figure below the level of inflation. The president’s budget shows huge cuts in domestic programs such as Medicare, something also viewed as not very realistic. Both the president and Democratic leaders in Congress show war spending to be stagnant for a couple years at $70 billion and then, magically, disappear.

Military spending in both plans calls for increases of 1.5 percent per year, again below inflation and far below levels of increase in recent past.

Unfortunately, this lack of reality will continue to exist through the election, given that both parties have no penchant for making the necessary tough budget choices in a year when both are vying for the big election prize of The White House.

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