The speech he needed to give

Outside editorial

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The following editorial is excerpted from today's Chicago Tribune:

George W. Bush delivered the State of the Union speech he needed to deliver Tuesday night - a delicate balance of wartime resolve and the need to press ahead on other important fronts as well.

This address marked a carefully crafted, and largely successful, transition from a full-time war footing to - not peacetime certainly - but a time when other domestic concerns will share the stage. The president knows few citizens will disagree with the three priorities he laid out in his speech: win the war, protect the homeland and revive the economy. But he also must know that, on the last point, there will be full and vigorous debate about how to get there.

Bush made only brief mention of his argument that the U.S. economy needs a stimulus plan, which would drive the current federal budget deeper into debt. Yet that, too, is likely to take up much of Washington's attention in coming weeks. The fact that Democrats also want a costly stimulus plan - though differently construed - doesn't give the president an excuse to bust the budget.

A stimulus jolt of the sort Bush called for Tuesday night might be worthwhile if it could guarantee the creation of jobs for the thousands of people who need them. But the unfortunate truth is that the American economy rebounds for reasons that have more to do with supply and demand than with prompting from Congress.

Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and architect of 11 successive interest rate cuts, thinks the economy will improve without a stimulus plan. He wants Congress to tie any future tax cuts or spending increases to retiring the public portion of the national debt, which now stands at about $3.3 trillion. Greenspan's fear is that members of Congress will toss away billions now on a stimulus plan to please the folks back home - and thus leave the nation even worse prepared to meet its pending obligations in Social Security, Medicare and other long-range needs.

Of course, tossing away billions is what Congress often is about. What's troubling is word that Bush next week will ask for a 9 percent increase in the next federal budget - and that much of the new money would go for old priorities repackaged as wartime security needs.

Some of this is just election-year politics. Bush would do a swan dive into the Reflecting Pool if that would revive the economy and help his party in this year's congressional election. Democrats, in turn, would do anything to derail past and future tax cuts. Why? So they can spend more money.

What's been forgotten is the determination both parties were voicing a year ago to attack the federal debt and strengthen the government for the huge challenges it can't avoid as more Americans qualify for Social Security and Medicare.

Bush has gained America's trust. He has earned it by leading this nation through a terrible crisis. He will retain it by not damaging the economy while trying to save it.

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