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Analysts predict $1.82-trillion budget deficit

©Associated Press

March 8, 2003


WASHINGTON -- President Bush's budget would produce unyielding deficits through the next decade totaling $1.82-trillion, Congress' top budget analyst said Friday in a report that could help lawmakers trying to shrink Bush's plan for fresh tax cuts.

The analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office accentuated how abruptly the government's fiscal fortunes are declining. Two years ago, forecasters envisioned an unprecedented $5.6-trillion in surpluses for the next decade.

Since January, the budget office's cumulative projections for the next 10 years have worsened by nearly $450-billion. That mostly reflects higher government spending that lawmakers approved last month and a continued drop in revenue caused by the weak economy.

Democrats were eager to use the new figures as ammunition against Bush's budget, which includes a proposal to cut taxes by $1.57-trillion during the next decade while boosting defense and national security spending.

"These deficit increases are continued evidence of the complete failure of the president's economic game plan," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.

Administration officials and congressional Republicans said the worsening figures proved just the opposite: That tax reductions were needed to spur economic growth, which in turn produces more federal revenue.

"The only way to get out of the deficits is to get the economy moving," White House budget office spokesman Trent Duffy said. "And that's why Congress must pass the president's jobs and growth plan."

The report projected that Bush's budget would produce a deficit this year of $287-billion, rising to $338-billion in 2004. From there, the shortfalls would shrink gradually to $102-billion in 2013.

Bush had estimated that his budget would result in deficits of $304-billion this year and $307-billion in 2004. Congressional analysts envision slightly higher tax collections than Bush does this year, and lower revenue and higher spending than Bush next year.

The near-term figures could well end up worse because, like Bush's budget, they omit projections for a war with Iraq and its aftermath, which analysts and government officials have said might exceed $100-billion.

The new numbers were produced less than a week before the Republican-controlled House and Senate Budget committees plan to produce their own tax and spending outlines for 2004.

House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said Friday he will write a blueprint that will come to balance within 10 years. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., has said he would like to do the same.

Many Democrats say Bush's tax cut plan, which is highlighted by a $726-billion package aimed at energizing the economy, is far too big. Many moderate Republicans agree, especially in the Senate, where a group of moderates from both parties are starting to coalesce around an economic package about half the size Bush wants.

Friday's figures could help those moderates argue that the Bush tax plan is too large.

Neither Nickles nor Nussle have said how large their tax cuts will be, but each said his top priority will be the economic growth portion of Bush's plan.

When Bush released his $2.23-trillion budget for 2004 in February, he projected ahead only five years. He estimated that during that period, deficits would total $1.08-trillion.

Administration officials said their numbers only extended five years because longer projections tend to be inaccurate, while Democrats said the White House was trying to avoid showing how bad the red ink would be in later years.

Democrats have blamed the revival of deficits, after four years of surplus under President Clinton, on Bush's $1.35-trillion, 10-year tax cut that Congress approved in 2001. Republicans blame the faltering economy and an expensive fight against terrorism, saying that dealing with both is more important than balancing the budget.

The White House and congressional Republicans also argue that the projected deficits are affordable because they are a small percentage of the country's $10.5-trillion economy.

"This demonstrates to me two things. We need growth in the economy and more spending restraint than the president has shown in his budget," Nussle said.

Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., the House budget panel's top Democrat, said, "Events have borne out our warnings. The president's policies will add trillions to the national debt and saddle American families with a debt tax for decades to come" in the form of higher government borrowing costs.

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