Deficit: It rings a bell

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

Remember deficit spending? The gigantic national debt? Well, like a dieter who has lost dozens of pounds only to reach for one little piece of chocolate cake, the U.S. government is backsliding on fiscal discipline. Unfortunately, it's no surprise.

The bad news comes from the Treasury Department. Instead of further paying down the national debt, as it had anticipated, the department now estimates that it will have to borrow $51 billion this quarter. There is no firm prediction for the following quarter, but forecasters see no bounce back.

Right now, of the $51 billion being borrowed, no less than $38 billion will go for the Bush tax cut, the refunds now hitting taxpayers' mailboxes. Oops. The administration had been counting on enough revenue to pay for tax cuts and increased spending on defense and education. But the fraudulence of its tax cut, which had been sold to the public as a painless measure, is becoming visible faster than predicted. No wonder House leaders are scrambling to help members explain to voters what they did. Social programs will be under tremendous pressure. At least the Pentagon is not going to be exempt: Though pro-military conservatives are already calling on Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign in protest, substantial Pentagon increases are now unlikely. To avoid technically running a deficit, the administration may try to tap the Social Security surplus. Congress should shun accounting tricks and return to the tax cut bill it passed earlier this year. It needs to be fixed, especially the heavier cuts in its later years. The Treasury Department's announcement is a loud alarm. Close the refrigerator door now.

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