Bush has done little to fight increasing deficit

Yesterday, congressional aids said the White House will estimate this year’s federal deficit at over $500 billion. The news comes on the heels of a worrisome report released earlier this month by the International Monetary Fund. Noting the deficit shows no signs of reversing its growth, the IMF admonished the United States for a debt level that might soon push global interest rates higher and slow economic growth around the world.

These bitter pills might be easier to swallow if the Bush administration’s commitment to deficit reduction went beyond empty rhetoric. The president has promised to cut the deficit in half in five years. Exactly how that will happen is far from clear.

In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush pledged to limit discretionary spending to 4 percent while zeroing in on ever-present government waste. He rounded out his deficit reduction strategy by urging Congress to “be wise with the people’s money” and “focus on priorities.”

The president’s newfound affinity for fiscal austerity is difficult to take seriously. Much of his domestic agenda actually seems well suited to increasing the deficit. He has repeatedly argued his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts should be made permanent – estimated by some to top $5 trillion over the next 10 years. The cost of a manned mission to Mars and a space station on the moon has been estimated at $500 billion over 20 to 30 years. The bill for the prescription drug benefit passed last spring is now believed to run the government $540 billion through the next decade. Add a costly war in Iraq and sharp increases in defense and homeland security spending to the mix and the president’s plan for the deficit becomes laughable.

This leaves the federal government poorly positioned to meet the future challenges of an aging, changing society. A real plan to tackle the budget deficit would include hard choices and bold leadership. Unfortunately, Bush has offered little of either.