Stop Ignoring Shortfalls

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The massive budget deficits facing the nation are rapidly becoming a bipartisan issue, and it's about time. Republicans are going to have to join with Democrats if the deficit monster threatening the financial integrity of the United States is to be slain.

The president, in his State of the Union message Tuesday, promised an economic program that would halve the deficit in five years. But that didn't satisfy numerous conservatives in the Republican Party. Forty of them, as members of a group called the Republican Study Committee, have gathered to figure out ways to hold down spending and press the president and the congressional leadership to do the same.

In addition, conservative organizations generally in lockstep with President Bush, including the Heritage Foundation, have voiced concerns about massive deficit spending, which could reach half a trillion dollars in the next fiscal year.

Naturally, the prescriptions of Democrats and Republicans on how to deal with the deficits differ. The Democrats believe they must be attacked mainly through tax increases, the conservative Republicans through spending restraints.

In the past three years, the nation has seen just the opposite: tax cuts and spending increases. Much of the spending has been linked to defense in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, but certainly not all.

According to Heritage Foundation figures, discretionary spending in 2003 is up more than 12 percent. That includes $11 billion in pork-barrel spending designed primarily to enhance the re-election chances of members of Congress.

Adequately addressing the deficits is going to require a reprise of the formula of the early 1990s: spending restraint and some form of tax increase. That formula ended up lowering long-term interest rates and igniting an unprecedented economic boom that filled the Treasury's coffers.

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, in his controversial new book, quotes Vice President Dick Cheney as declaring early in the Bush administration, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."

But deficits do matter. Reagan realized this, and even supported tax increases when it became obvious that the budget deficits were getting totally out of hand.

Some politicians do what's right on their own accord, but all respond to constituent pressure. It's time for Democrats, Republicans and everyone else to start shouting at the top of their lungs that it's time for the politicians to address the deficits in a realistic way.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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