Saturday, April 24, 2004

Is John Kerry making it up as he goes along? The presumptive Democratic nominee, who has been raging about the Bush economy for more than 15 months, was recently asked to tie his campaign proposals into a succinct and compelling agenda. “Succinct agenda,” Mr. Kerry replied. “We’re going to balance the budget. We’re going to cut the deficit in half in four years. We’re going to create 10 million jobs. And we’re going to provide health care to all Americans? How’s that?” Well, which is it going to be? Are you going to balance the budget? Or are you going to cut the deficit in half? The difference is only about $250 billion a year.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry has been unilaterally downsizing the cost of his health-care plan, to which health-care economist Kenneth Thorpe of Emory University independently applied a 10-year price tag of $895 billion. In an interview last summer with Margaret Warner on “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” Mr. Kerry confirmed the $900 billion price tag. Last week, however, he told Neil Cavuto on the Fox News Channel that his plan would cost a maximum of $650 billion over 10 years. At the same time he has been downsizing the cost of his health-care plan, he has been increasing the number of currently uninsured people it would cover. Mr. Thorpe estimated the plan would cover 26.7 million of the 43.6 million uninsured. In his April 7 budget speech at Georgetown, however, Mr. Kerry claimed his plan would “expand health care for all of our children and cover virtually all Americans.”

Mr. Kerry also promises essentially worthless budget savings and pseudo budget discipline. In the face of federal spending that, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office, will total at least $30 trillion over the next 10 years, Mr. Kerry’s campaign offered these specific examples of fiscal restraint: “Extend Superfund (saves $17 billion over ten years); collect royalties for mineral rights of federal lands (saves $1 billion over ten years); cut electricity used by the federal government by 20 percent in 10 years (saves $14 billion over ten years); … freeze the federal travel budget (saves $10 billion over ten years).” To more than double his meager itemized savings, he matter-of-factly promises to reduce spending on federal contractors by $50 billion over 10 years.

Even granting him the last, undocumented pledge, his itemized spending savings ($92 billion) total a minuscule three-tenths of 1 percent over 10 years, which doesn’t even qualify as a rounding error.

To enforce pseudo budget discipline, Mr. Kerry pledges to enact “budget caps to ensure [total federal] spending does not exceed inflation.” His enforcement mechanism would be “an automatic across-the-board cut.” This cut, however, would “not apply to defense, homeland security, education, Social Security, Medicare or other mandatory programs.” But mandatory programs and interest payments will total $1.485 trillion in 2005. Adding in defense ($450 billion), homeland security ($30 billion) and the non-mandatory spending for education ($79 billion) and health care ($42 billion) brings Kerry-protected spending to $2.1 trillion, which is nearly 90 percent of total federal spending in 2005. This simply is not credible.

With such self-serving, unilateral, revisionist declarations and worthless proposals like these, no wonder a poll of “several economists without a political horse in the race” by Fortune magazine reporter Bill Powell confirmed that Mr. Kerry’s promises involving health care, tax increases on the wealthy and deficit reduction did not add up.

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