George Will

WASHINGTON--Economics is a science of single instances, hence it is hardly a science. So how much the president's most recent tax cuts will stimulate the economy is conjectural, a conjecture being a guess by a Ph.D. The Los Angeles Times, using Commerce Department figures, says the economy may be expanded ``by somewhere between the annual output of North Dakota, the smallest of the states in economic terms, and Nevada, which ranks 31st,'' or by the equivalent of ``adding another Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Dell Computer Corp.''

But as a stimulus to the president's political stock and conservatives' aspirations, the latest tax cuts, signed Wednesday, will be doubly successful. They will make it more difficult for a Democrat to win the presidency. And should one win, the cuts will make it more difficult to use the presidency for Democratic purposes.

The cuts were the third set Bush has signed in 24 months. Were he to keep up that pace through a second term, by 2009 the government's revenue base would be significantly smaller, and quite differently composed. Both House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is a firebrand, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is not, say there soon will be more tax cut proposals.

Some will seek to make permanent the new cuts, almost all of which are, in theory, ``sunsetted''--set to expire--beginning next year. Others will continue the incremental but brisk march toward truly radical tax reform. It is a march away from taxing investment income--the new rates on capital gains and dividends are the lowest since the Depression--and perhaps away from taxing all sorts of income, and instead taxing consumption.

The sunset provisions serve the transparent fiction that the new cuts will deprive the government of no more than $350 billion over 10 years, the number that several deficit-phobic Republican senators insisted on. But given the success of Republican rhetoric--a success deriving from the public's common sense--in arguing that allowing a tax cut to lapse is equivalent to increasing taxes, the sun will set on few, if any, of these cuts.

So the 10-year cost to the government may exceed even the president's original goal of $726 billion, which he supposedly ``compromised'' in half. Democrats, noting that Bush has achieved all this with almost no help from congressional Democrats and with little enthusiasm from the public, are probably muttering to themselves, as they have been muttering since election night 2000: It is a good thing George W. Bush is dumb as a stump or we'd really be in trouble.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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