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J.D. Foster, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation, agrees that the tax cuts were beneficial. “The tax cuts contributed to four years of robust growth and even today are providing strong support in the face of the powerful shocks to the economy from the housing sector and the credit crunch,” Mr. Foster said.

However, Aviva Aron-Dine, a policy analyst at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, believes data on the 2001-2007 expansion “provides no support for the claim that tax cuts generated exceptional economic growth.”

After reviewing all 10 expansions since World War II, Ms. Aron-Dine found that “the 2001-2007 expansion was either the weakest or among the weakest” with respect to gross domestic product, consumption, investment, wage and salary, and employment growth.

In fact, the growth rates for employment and wages and salaries were “lower than in any previous post-World War II expansion,” she said, adding that the growth rate for household net worth was below average.

Bigger budgets,

soaring debt

Both the budget deficit and the national debt have skyrocketed during the Bush administration, something economists attribute to both the 2001 recession and lower tax revenues attributed to the administration’s tax cuts.

Compared to budget surpluses that averaged $140 billion from 1998 through 2001, budget deficits averaged $280 billion throughout the 2002-2007 period.

Meanwhile, as budget deficits mounted, annual increases in the national debt soared even more. The rising tide includes the hundreds of billions of dollars the federal government borrows each year from trust funds (for example, Social Security) that are generating temporary surpluses. Thus, the national debt, which had increased from $5.4 trillion at the end of fiscal 1997 to $5.8 trillion at the end of fiscal 2001, will exceed $10.4 trillion by the end of fiscal 2009, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The White House points out that the 2007 budget deficit ($162 billion) was 1.2 percent of GDP, “well below the 40-year average.”

“Economic growth contributed to the highest tax revenues on record and a $250 billion drop in the deficit over the last three years,” the White House argued in a fact sheet issued in January. However, the fiscal 2009 budget released in February revealed budget-deficit estimates of $410 billion for 2008 and $407 billion for 2009. Both estimates approach the record budget deficit of $413 billion in 2004. Moreover, the White House budget office projects that the national debt will increase by $703 billion in 2008 and $759 billion in 2009. Never before has the national debt increased by as much as $600 billion in a single year.

That debt load doesn’t worry Mr. Foster of the Heritage Foundation. “Despite the ongoing costs of the war and the recently enacted ‘stimulus’ package, the near-term deficit remains quite manageable, and debt levels as a share of GDP remain moderate by historical standards,” he said.

The national debt peaked at 122 percent of GDP at the end of World War II. It steadily declined to 33 percent in 1981, increased to 67 percent in the mid-1980s, retreated to 57 percent in 2001 and is projected to exceed 69 percent of GDP next year.

Mr. Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform isn’t very worried about the rising budget deficits, either.

“Budget deficits are such a small part of the economic equation, they are to be ignored,” Mr. Ellis said. “When compared to the balance sheet of the nation,” he added, they are “minuscule.”

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