- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

An unprecedented federal budget surplus is compromising Vice President Al Gore's claim that Texas Gov. George W. Bush's $1.3 trillion, 10-year tax cut would ruin the nation's economy.
"It should frankly put to rest the baseless charge that Mr. Gore has made for the last six months that Governor Bush's plans don't fit within the budget," said John Cogan, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an economic adviser to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
President Clinton announced Monday that the nation's projected non-Social Security surplus will top $1.9 trillion over the next decade.
Bush aides say that means the Texas governor can deliver his tax cut and leave $600 billion for other programs without touching the $2 trillion Social Security surplus.
The stunning projections have changed the landscape in the race to succeed Mr. Clinton.
The vice president has cast himself as the candidate of fiscal responsibility, arguing that Mr. Bush's tax cut and his plan for partial privatization of Social Security would herald a return to deficit spending.
"The Bush tax plan could shatter confidence in our economy, sending a message to the world that under George W. Bush, the era of fiscal responsibility is over," Mr. Gore said April 25 during a speech to the Association for a Better New York.
"It could raise interest rates, hurt investment, put all our prosperity at risk, and drive us into inflation and recession."
But in June, amid rumblings of a new flood of cash, Mr. Gore dramatically increased his own tax-cut proposals.
The vice president doubled his menu of targeted tax cuts to $500 billion over 10 years including his own $200 billion plan to help Americans save for retirement outside the Social Security system.
Mr. Gore tried to retain the mantle of the fiscal conservative, even as he boosted his own spending plans.
"I won't be profligate with your money," Mr. Gore said in New York on June 13 at the beginning of his "prosperity and progress" tour.
"I won't spend money that we don't have on a tax cut that our economy can't afford."
Mr. Gore then toured Midwest battleground states, where he proposed $148 billion in new tax breaks and spending over 10 years to promote fuel conservation and "clean technologies" such as solar homes and electric cars.
"The entire Gore attack" against the Bush tax cut was 'it don't fit,' " said Martin Anderson, another analyst at the Hoover Institution who advises Mr. Bush on economic issues.
"Now Gore is going to be forced to argue the case [for or against Mr. Bush's tax cut] on the merits," said Mr. Anderson, who served as President Reagan's economic and domestic adviser from 1981-82.
Mr. Gore and President Clinton maintain that the cost of Mr. Bush's proposed missile-defense program and the transition costs of Mr. Bush's Social Security plan will exceed even the new surplus figures.
The Bush campaign has offered no concrete estimate for a missile-defense system. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a space-based system could cost $60 billion to procure.
The Bush campaign also has not spelled out the expected cost of his plan to partially privatize Social Security. But Mr. Bush said he will "maintain current benefits for those at or near retirement."
The Gore campaign says that if 2 percent of payroll taxes leave the system and go into the stock market, the system will need a $1 trillion infusion over 10 years to pay the benefits of impending retirees.
"There is no clearer difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush than how they would use the surplus," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said.
"Even with the new surplus projections, it is clear that Bush will not be able to pay for all of his tax cut and spending proposals."
Mr. Clinton, addressing municipal workers in Philadelphia on Friday, admitted "the other guys have got a better sounding argument the first time you hear it."
But he said Mr. Bush's Social Security plan will bust the budget.
"Who's going to make up the money? The taxpayers are," Mr. Clinton said.
The rumblings of new cash have helped Mr. Bush make the case that he is a "compassionate conservative."
In May, Mr. Bush proposed a $7.4 billion, five-year plan to help Americans buy long-term care insurance or care for elderly relatives at home.
The Texas governor offered $325 million in matching funds over five years to give the nation's handgun owners trigger locks. Mr. Bush also proposed to boost federal funding for a program for elderly volunteers from $183 million a year to $240 million a year.
But Mr. Bush also sought to show that he is a fiscal conservative. He said he could save taxpayers $88 billion over five years by choosing not to replace 40,000 managers, by accelerating privat-ization and by increasing use of the Internet.
The surpluses have led to "a seismic shift" in the presidential debate, said Mr. Anderson of the Hoover Institution.
"We're no longer arguing about 'does it fit,' " he said. "We're arguing about whether we should cut taxes or spend on new programs."

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