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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2007
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EDITORIAL

Congress must assure nation's fiscal well-being

The nation is in a financial mess as President Bush tries to persuade a skeptical Congress to adopt his $2.9 trillion budget for the coming fiscal year.

For starters, the new budget calls for $800 from each woman, man and child to finance the war in Iraq for another 18 months. That, of course, is on top of the money the Pentagon has already spent on the war.

Listen to the White House and you hear nothing but optimism about the nation's finances, even with our $8.7 trillion debt. The president projects that by 2012 the nation will actually have a $61 billion surplus.

That's only five years down the road, you might think, so the nation can afford a little more debt to see the war to a conclusion.

But the projections are based on assumptions that the economy will stay strong and actually improve to produce the revenue to cover government's growing appetite. For instance, they assume the war will be over in a couple years, but don't take into account fixing the alternative minimum tax so it doesn't hit millions of middle-income taxpayers whose paycheck increased due to inflation, not real money.

Democrats are in a dilemma over funding the budget. They must fund the troops already in the war and provide for the 21,000 who may be going, and they have a variety of domestic crises that need urgent attention.

The 2012 surplus projection is smoke and mirrors. The reality is government is gobbling up borrowed foreign money at an alarming rate to help finance the debt that has grown $1.48 billion a day since Sept. 29, 2006.

That's while the nation's trade deficit continues to balloon. In 2005, the trade deficit ran more than $2.09 billion a day. As a result, many people find themselves taking lower-paying jobs to replace the ones they lost to overseas competition.

If the president continues refusing to make hard decisions about spending, Congress must.

The best plan put forward is to adopt a fiscal policy of paying as you go. That, of course, may mean not renewing the president's tax cut for people in the highest-income brackets, doing without nonessentials and increasing taxes.

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