Every year, Washington spends more than it takes in. The federal deficit is expected to hit $482 billion next year. So why are both presidential candidates promising voters bigger government and more tax cuts? They must figure that if they don't, they lose.
I understand why John McCain wants to make permanent the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, and Obama wants to retain the cuts for families earning up to $250,000. When those cuts sunset after 2010, the child tax credit will shrink, the marriage penalty will return and Americans will see a big bump in their tax bills.
But why add more goodies? Why eliminate the income tax for seniors making less than $50,000 a year -- as Obama proposes? Why suspend the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon over the summer -- as McCain proposes?
Why more tax cuts? I asked the Obama campaign. Team Obama sent this statement: "President Bush's tax breaks to the special interests are what set us on the road to bankruptcy -- Sen. Obama's tax cut plan is a common sense solution to our current economic crisis. Rather than giving additional tax breaks to oil companies and the richest 1 percent of the nation, Sen. Obama will provide $1,000 of tax relief to more than 95 percent of all Americans. Sen. Obama will put more money in the pockets of working Americans, while ensuring that our vital public programs -- such as public education and veterans' health care -- are fully funded."
OK, but that's the wrong approach. The Tax Policy Center figures, over 10 years, Obama's tax package would reduce federal revenues -- read: increase the federal deficit -- by $2.8 trillion. And that doesn't include the cost of his spending proposals.
In an interview Monday, McCain answered that tax cuts can stimulate the economy. His proposal to lower the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent is intended not to help "the fat cat," but to create jobs. Economist Gerald Prante of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation sees the McCain corporate-rate cut as one of McCain's better ideas -- although McCain is "not really paying" for it.
Neither candidate is paying for his tax cuts. McCain made the mistake recently of telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos that nothing, not even a tax hike, is "off the table" when it comes to fixing Social Security and Medicare systems that are underfunded to the tune of $175,000 per American. Tax foes pounced. McCain retreated.
Too bad. McCain has a long history of fighting Washington's big-spending ways. He has been a fearless foe of earmarks. He voted against the pork-rich farm bill, which Obama supported. Ask me whom I trust to cut spending, and there's only one answer: McCain.
A Democratic Congress, with a President Obama, likely would spend, well, like he's George W. Bush. Voters tell pollsters that they want change. Do they? No serious White House would dare not to promise more something for nothing.