Bruce Bartlett

Last week, John Kerry spoke about the need for getting the deficit under control in a speech at Georgetown University.  Although the talk had nothing in it that would motivate true fiscal conservatives to vote for him, it had just enough to alarm some liberals.

 Twelve years ago, Bill Clinton faced another President Bush who had run up large deficits.  To his credit, Clinton put out an entire book listing specific budget cuts and tax increases that he would implement if elected.  Although a lot of it was smoke-and-mirrors, his proposal was a model of thoroughness compared to Kerry's vague rhetoric.

 To start, Kerry proposes cutting the deficit in half in 4 years.  If this sounds familiar, it should.  It's exactly the same goal George W. Bush set forth in his 2005 budget issued in January, which every Democrat in Congress denounced as grossly inadequate.

 Kerry then blames Bush's spending for getting us into a budgetary mess.  But he uses Orwellian doublespeak by calling tax cuts spending.  So in other words, in Kerryspeak, if a taxpayer is allowed to keep a bit of his own money, it is exactly the same as if he got a check from the government.  In the Kerry universe, apparently, if anyone pays less than 100 percent of their income to the government, they might as well be on welfare.

 There is not one specific in the Kerry plan.  He can't even use his previous proposal to rescind the Bush tax cuts as a deficit reducing action, because he has already promised that revenue several times for other tax cuts, expanded health care and other initiatives.  So Kerry merely proposes budget rules that would require new spending to be paid for with tax increases, often called pay-as-you-go or PAYGO, and says he will reduce corporate welfare, as if this is enough to balance the budget.

 PAYGO rules are not a way of reducing deficits.  At best they only keep them from
getting worse.  PAYGO might have been helpful last year, however, since it might have stopped passage of the disastrous Medicare drug bill.  So unless Kerry is proposing to make it retroactive, it is hard to see how PAYGO will do much of anything to reduce the deficit.

 Even some liberals agree that Kerry is just playing games with his PAYGO plan.  Writing on the web site of Washington Monthly magazine, liberal Kevin Drum calls it "transparently silly" because Kerry would exempt 80 percent of the budget from the new rules.  Drum concludes that Kerry "doesn't exactly inspire visions of tightfisted fiscal rectitude."


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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