September 12, 2006

Sloan Bemoans "Holey" Deficit Math

The always-excellent Allan Sloan has a good overview of the Bush administration's budget-deficit hijinks in today's Washington Post. Sloan highlights the sleight-of-hand used by the Bush administration to make the nation's budget deficit seem smaller than it really is: once again this year, we're "borrowing" more than a hundred billion dollars from the Social Security Trust Fund-- robbing future retirees of the Social Security benefits they're entitled to under current law. A detailed history of the Bush administration's Social Security shell game can be found on CTJ's website here.

Sloan points out usefully that there are conditions under which the Administration's fuzzy math actually makes sense, but also make it clear that these conditions do not currently hold:
I readily concede that if you want to measure the deficit's effect on financial markets, using $260 billion makes sense. After all, that's how much the government is borrowing from "public investors" such as banks, foreign governments and you and me. But if you want to see how much deeper the fiscal hole is getting for taxpayers present and future, which is how I think we should measure the deficit, you have to include the almost $300 billion of trust-fund IOUs.
As is so often true in tax policy debates, the glass-half-full folks in Congress and the Bush Administration are distorting the truth this way because they think they can get away with it. But if enough sensible observers like Sloan blow the whistle on the "holey math" we're being fed, those holding the purse strings will eventually have to report our fiscal situation honestly. Thanks to Sloan for once again focusing the public's attention on this issue.


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