Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Sen. John Kerry, who has spent millions and millions of dollars pounding the Bush administration over the airwaves for months, became exorcised last week after the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign finally released its first commercial mildly criticizing Mr. Kerry’s budget arithmetic. Suddenly, and for the first time, someone was holding Mr. Kerry accountable for the costs of his promises. No wonder he shrieked so loudly.

During the primaries and caucuses, all Democrats promised to re-instate the Clinton-era’s top two personal tax rates of 36 percent and 39.6 percent on the fewer than 2 percent of tax filers who report income above $200,000. With nobody to call their bluff, the Democrats conspired to believe — and to convince their constituencies — that “making the rich pay their fair share” and “closing corporate tax loopholes” and “eliminating corporate welfare” would somehow unleash unlimited revenue streams, which could then be used to finance the candidates’ almost unlimited “investments.” With essentially free money available in unlimited quantities, Democrats competed by leapfrogging one another with their promised “investments.”

Nobody played the game better than Mr. Kerry. He had free reign to pummel Democratic opponents like Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean for pledging to repeal all of the Bush tax cuts, including the sizable cuts that have benefited working- and middle-class households. It was a game-breaking strategic advantage that Mr. Kerry clearly exploited.

Now that the general election campaign has begun, however, Mr. Kerry has found that he will no longer receive a free pass for engaging in Democratic Party-approved duplicity. Unlike the Dean and Gephardt campaigns after Iowa, the Bush-Cheney campaign has the wherewithal to hold Mr. Kerry accountable for his flip-flops and non sequiturs. Thus, the recent ad that so infuriated Mr. Kerry pointed out the inconvenient fact that Mr. Kerry’s promise to cut the budget deficit in half within four years conflicted with his gold-plated investments.

These include: his $90-billion-per-year health plan; his two-year-then-cold-turkey proposal to funnel $50 billion to the states; the low-balled $10 billion-plus it will cost over four years to provide free college tuition to national-service “volunteers;” the additional $30 billion per year (at least) he plans to spend for child care, after-school care, Head Start, No Child Left Behind, special education, student aid and federal construction subsidies for local schools; the nearly $7 billion in additional annual funding for homeland security; and the nearly $50 billion per year for funding an additional 40,000 active-duty Army troops and veterans’ health benefits.

Conservatively estimated, these new spending plans would add nearly $200 billion per year to the federal budget. For Mr. Kerry to meet his deficit goal, it suddenly becomes clear that he would have to raise taxes hundreds of billions of dollars more than he has so far implied. And, quite obviously, not only on “the rich.” No wonder he’s so noisy.

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