- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

When Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean eviscerated one another in Iowa with ferociously negative ads, John Kerry proved to be the beneficiary, cleverly exploiting the free ride that began on Iowa’s wintry caucus night all the way to presumptive-nominee status. As this newspaper has noted, Mr. Kerry also benefited greatly from the fact that Messrs. Dean and Gephardt had foolishly promised to eliminate all of the tax cuts enacted under President Bush, including the substantial tax relief given to middle-class families. For his part, Mr. Kerry pledged only to repeal the tax cuts for those earning more than $200,000. With the Democratic presidential candidates having collectively spent more than $190 million through Super Tuesday on March 2, much of it blistering President Bush, Mr. Kerry emerged in fine shape, leading the incumbent in several polls.

That’s the kind of lucky streak that could easily be interpreted as a political entitlement. To Mr. Kerry’s evident displeasure, however, the free ride has come to an end. Unlike his Democratic competitors, who were only too happy to fight him on a battlefield where escalating spending promises were the weapon of choice, President Bush has joined the general-election battle armed with a calculator.

A bit of Republican arithmetic has demonstrated that all those spending promises Mr. Kerry made during the primaries cannot conceivably be kept unless he smashes both of his other two fiscal pledges: i.e., to cut the deficit in half within four years and to repeal only the tax cuts for those earning more than $200,000. In fact, over a 10-year period, there is a $1 trillion gap between Mr. Kerry’s narrowly targeted tax increase and his wide-ranging spending explosion ($900 billion for health insurance, $250 billion for veterans’ health care, $200 billion for “Real Deal” education, $100 billion for college subsidies and national-service payments and more than $50 billion to fully fund Head Start, etc.).

Even more ominously, that trillion-dollar “tax gap” excludes scores of spending proposals for which no reliable spending estimates have been made. Under these circumstances, no middle-class family should believe its Bush-delivered tax relief is safe from a Kerry administration.

Meanwhile, any conceivable progress toward reducing the budget deficit in the near term (two or three years) during a Kerry administration would be overwhelmed in the medium term as his spending programs began to gather momentum. Once the programs are fully phased in, all bets are off. For example, his 10-year, $900 billion health-insurance program — a cost figure, by the way, that Mr. Kerry himself has confirmed — does not begin and end with annual expenditures of $90 billion. Rather, it would begin slowly, then grow by leaps and bounds; thus, spending would vastly exceed $90 billion in its tenth year. The same applies to his promise to convert veterans’ health care into an open-ended entitlement. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the net cost for 2005 at $6.8 billion, rising to $26 billion in 2008 and increasing thereafter.

For the first time since he began actively pursuing the presidency shortly after the 2002 elections, Mr. Kerry has been confronted with the fact that his fiscal promises do not add up. To his discomfort, he has discovered that he’s not in Iowa anymore.

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