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Resist Tax Cuts in Wartime

March 19, 2003

Like Queen Latifah, President Bush is bringing down the house. But not in a good way. Faced with the prospect of trillions in deficits over the next decade, 11 moderate House Republicans declared Friday that they would not support a budget for fiscal 2004 that cut taxes and domestic programs such as Medicare and education. GOP moderates in the Senate also are balking at sweeping tax reductions. The Democratic leadership should work with this reasonable cadre in continued efforts to halt or slow tax cuts, especially until the costs of an Iraq war -- which the administration refuses to address -- become clear.

The president's plan would permanently extend the 10-year, $1.3-trillion tax cut passed in 2001. Bush is also pushing for a $725-billion stimulus package intended to revive the economy. But the deficits that would be created by those proposals have prompted House and Senate GOP leaders to try to limit the damage. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), head of the House Budget Committee, is urging Congress to simply spend less. But centrist lawmakers are wisely resisting.

To pay for the president's proposed tax cuts, Nussle offers a plan that would curb the deficit by 2010 by cutting $470 billion from Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, scientific research, food stamps, education and veterans' benefits. Perhaps there is some waste in these programs, but why should the middle class and poor bear the cost of tax cuts that predominantly benefit the wealthy? And even Nussle's proposal would leave the country in debt, partly because it doesn't address the cost of a war with Iraq. The Senate Budget Committee plan too would lead to debt, relying on reduced spending in the future to balance the budget by 2013. And both the Senate and House plans would tap into the Social Security surplus.

With the 77-million-strong baby boom generation set to begin retiring in the next decade, it's unlikely that the budget can be brought back into balance unless tax cuts are stopped. On Monday, the trustees for Medicare announced that for the first time since 1996 the program's finances were deteriorating.

At the same time, the administration remains maddeningly vague about the costs of invading and occupying Iraq. "There are estimates out there," Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday on "Meet the Press." Well, yes. But what are the administration's?

Until the expense of a war becomes clearer, Congress should refrain from passing a formal budget. And no matter what the war costs, Congress should resist massive tax cuts, which would produce a house-of-cards economy that unforeseen problems could easily bring down.

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