Friday, August 05, 2005

Congress' spending draws fire

USA Today
Congress' spending draws fire
By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A series of actions by the Republican-controlled Congress threatens to send the federal deficit soaring, reversing a downward trend caused by new tax revenues from a rebounding economy.

Legislation passed by Congress this year will add $35 billion to next year's budget deficit and $115 billion through 2010, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan watchdog group.

Fueling the spending is the war in Iraq and emergency aid for victims of last December's tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Last week, lawmakers added billions more in energy, highway and veterans health care funding.

The threats to the deficit will escalate in the fall, when Congress traditionally faces political pressure to cut taxes more and federal benefits less than promised. Congress approved a budget earlier this year with about $106 billion in tax cuts and $35 billion in benefit reductions, but the actual cuts must be made this fall.

*Bill too new for precise estimate.
Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

As difficult as the situation is now, it's forecast to get worse. Federal health care and retirement benefits are projected to skyrocket as the baby boom generation retires. The Congressional Budget Office reported Thursday that Medicare costs are growing faster than they have in a decade. That's before a new prescription-drug benefit takes effect in January.

"We have a very short window of opportunity to make real changes in advance of when the real fiscal storm hits, and we're continuing to make things worse instead of better," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

A coalition of fiscal watchdog groups wrote President Bush on Thursday urging him to veto the highway bill, which will cost $286.4 billion over the next four years. They cited nearly 6,500 "pork-barrel" projects worth a record $24 billion. They also criticized a provision that subtracts $8.6 billion on the last day the bill is in effect, Sept. 30, 2009 — a "rescission" they doubt will occur.

"Republicans are spending at a rate not seen since Lyndon Johnson's presidency," said Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union. Added Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense: "They're legislating as if deficits don't matter."

The White House said legislation passed by Congress last week was slimmer than earlier versions. Lawmakers reduced the highway bill by $88.5 billion and the energy bill by $18.5 billion. The White House also noted that the House has voted to eliminate 101 programs.

"The federal government's near-term fiscal improvements give us the chance and the responsibility to deal with the long-term budget challenges posed by demographic changes and ever-rising health care costs," said Scott Milburn, spokesman for the White House budget office.

Find this article at: