- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This week’s lower deficit figure has been a shot in the arm for tax cutters in Congress and has reignited the debate over supply-side economics and whether President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts helped or hurt the federal budget.

“Supply-side economics are alive and well,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican and the budget point man for House conservatives, who added that tax cuts are the only explanation for the declining deficit. “Spending’s not down; spending has increased every single budget. What happened is we’re awash in tax revenue because supply-side economics is alive and well.”

On Tuesday, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced a projected deficit of $296 billion for fiscal year 2006 — still the fourth highest ever, but $127 billion lower than predicted in February and, if the projection materializes, $22 billion less than last year’s deficit.

The improvement was credited almost entirely to an 11 percent jump in federal revenues, far more than predicted just six months ago, which left tax cutters claiming vindication and calling for Congress to extend the 2001 and 2003 cuts. The OMB even included an entire section in its report to Congress crediting the tax cuts with solid economic gains and predicting that making the cuts permanent would further increase the national income by seven-tenths of a percent.

But Democrats said the tax cuts don’t deserve credit for the declining deficit, and said federal revenue only now is returning to where it was when Mr. Bush took office.

In a letter yesterday to new Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, challenged the administration to prove the tax cuts’ effects, saying his read of the new figures shows that wage and salary income is $71 billion less than predicted, and that companies now are sitting on cash rather than investing it.

“Economic growth that favors investment income and bypasses hardworking Americans relying on a paycheck is a recipe for disaster. Further, we’re not even seeing the corporate investment the Republicans promised, so this so-called ‘good news’ rings hollow,” Mr. Rangel said. “Since it’s clear the Bush economy isn’t benefiting working families, I have to ask: Where’s the money going?”

In reviewing the new figures, Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, said it’s taken five years for the government to get back to the same level of revenue as in 2001, when Mr. Bush made his first tax cut. And Jim Horney, who studies the federal budget for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said those praising the news actually are celebrating a projection error.

“It’s probably not evidence of what’s happening as far as the effect of revenues on the economy,” he said. “It’s simply the revenues are very volatile and it’s very difficult to project them.”

In a paper on the new numbers, his group said the economic recovery in the 1990s occurred about the same point after a recession, and that came after the 1993 tax increases under President Clinton.

But Pat Toomey, a former Republican congressman who now runs the conservative Club for Growth, said revenue is performing exactly as predicted by supply-side economics.

“It’s precisely what happened. It happens every time. At some point, the left ought to recognize a trend here,” he said.

He said Republicans could capitalize on the issue in the upcoming elections, though he said they have made their task harder because voters who are likely to vote on tax cuts are also those most likely to be angry over the growth of government spending under a Republican administration and Republican-controlled Congress.

Meanwhile, Republicans say Democrats should admit that they were wrong to doubt that Mr. Bush could cut the budget deficit in half by 2009, compared with where it was in 2004. The president now says he’s actually going to meet his target in 2008, a year early.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, released quotes from top Democrats doubting that Mr. Bush ever would reach that goal, including Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, saying in 2005 that the budget “is clearly not on that path, nowhere near it,” and from Mr. Conrad in 2004, saying “talk about cutting the deficit in half is a sham.”

“Democrats on Capitol Hill only know how to do two things, and that’s shrug their shoulders with a vacant look when challenged to present their own ideas and then spew negativity and blame-mongering when Republicans offer our ideas,” said Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner. “The fact that their doomsday predictions about the economy will never be realized just shows how the Democrats are absolutely, totally devoid of credibility.”

But Mr. Conrad said the yearly deficit number is a diversion from the real threat, which is the increase in federal debt — the accumulation of years of deficits.

“All of this happy talk coming out of the administration about the fiscal circumstance reminds me a little of somebody holding a press conference to talk about the new lifeboats onboard the Titanic,” he said. “Sure, yeah, there’s some good news there, but this ship of state is in big trouble.”

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