Friday, March 03, 2006

Dems say '05 deficit was more than double the reported figure

Dems say '05 deficit was more than double the reported figure
By Bill Theobald, Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — If the United States kept its books like General Motors and nearly every other business in the country, the 2005 budget deficit would be $760 billion and rising, not $319 billion and falling, as is commonly reported.

A group of fiscally conservative Democrats who call themselves the Blue Dog Coalition pointed out this more dire number Thursday and accused the Bush administration of playing hide the ball with the report that includes the higher figure.

"These are genuinely alarming numbers," Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said of the figures in the 2005 Financial Report of the United States Government, issued by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Cooper, who unearthed the annual report on the department's website, said fewer than 20 members of Congress received copies of the 154-page financial report.

"When we called for copies they almost laughed at me," Cooper said at a Thursday news conference. Calls to the Treasury Department seeking comment were not returned.

How can two reports on the same budget be so different? It's a matter of what's counted.

The budget figures usually bandied about in Washington are the amounts the government takes in and spends each year.

The financial report, which has been an annual requirement since the mid-1990s, does what businesses are required to do: include the cost of promised benefits. And between Veterans Affairs, Social Security and Medicare, the U.S. government has made huge financial promises to a growing number of people.

The three dozen members of the Blue Dog Coalition have offered a 12-point proposal for improving the budget process.

Meanwhile, Congress is poised in the next few weeks to raise the debt ceiling — the total amount of borrowing the country is allowed — from $8.18 trillion to nearly $9 trillion.

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