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Budget Should Reflect Reality of the Times


Location: Washington, DC


By. U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper

The Tennessean

Budgets are supposed to be blueprints for the future. But federal budgets have become so out-of-touch with reality that they are increasingly works of fiction, not fact.

For example, President Bush's latest budget contradicts all of his speeches by only planning on $70 billion more for the Iraq War. His budget implies that our troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by Christmas. Of course, he doesn't mean it; he omits war costs to make the deficit look smaller.

The President's budget also assumes that the Alternative Minimum Tax will be allowed to hit tens of millions of middle-income Americans, amounting to the largest tax increase in history. And yet the President says he is against tax increases of any kind. This is also designed to hide the size of the deficits.

Since President Bush graduated from Harvard Business School, it is not unfair to expect him to know something about budgets, particularly his own budget. Recently, I had the privilege of flying to Tennessee with the President on Air Force One, but he was much more familiar with his State of the Union address than his budget.

The biggest problem with the federal budget may be the least obvious. All of the numbers in it are deceptive because Washington uses cash accounting. The federal government continues to exempt itself from using accrual accounting in order to hide the true obligations that we owe federal employees, veterans, and Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries.

No remedies for the programs

The largest and most important programs in federal government are largely excluded from the president's budget. On a handful of its 2100 pages, the budget warns that Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs are $54 trillion over-promised or under-funded. Unfortunately, he doesn't propose good-faith remedies, instead opting to slash Medicare deeply - a move even Republicans in Congress would never allow. What's more, Bush's planned $400 billion deficit in 2009 gives no hint of the annual $3 trillion widening of our fiscal gap.

The scope of this problem demands serious, bipartisan efforts. I have proposed, along with Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, forming a bipartisan commission to recommend solutions to these entitlement problems for our next President. Sadly, President Bush has given up. As he confirmed to me on Friday, he is leaving these solutions up to Congress. I wish he would call us all to the Oval Office at 8 A.M. tomorrow and get to work.

I am pushing hard to get the Cooper-Wolf SAFE Commission included in the Democratic budget that is likely to pass Congress in early March. If the Senate concurs, this could get the Commission started in time to finish its work by Inauguration Day next year. We have 72 cosponsors, including endorsements from the House Majority and Minority Leaders, broad support from think tanks on the left and right, and from business groups like the NFIB and Business Roundtable. We are hoping that AARP will help too.

Honest, reality-based budgeting is the best way to build a stronger America.

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