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CBO: Bush overestimates budget deficit

By
March 4, 2006

The budget scorekeepers for Congress predict that if lawmakers adopt President Bush’s budget, the deficit for the current year will fall short of the record figures projected by the administration.

The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of Bush’s budget for the current year predicts a $371 billion shortfall _ $52 billion less than the record $423 billion predicted just last month by the rival Office of Management and Budget, the White House budget agency.

All told, Bush’s budget would generate $1.1 trillion worth of budget deficits through 2011, assuming its policies are followed exactly. Many budget experts believe Bush’s budget in future years understates the deficits because it assumes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost just $50 billion next year and it contains no funding for the war for 2008 and beyond.

The administration in recent years has consistently put forth deficit estimates in February that have turned out to be too pessimistic when the books are tallied in October. Last year, for example, the White House initially predicted a 2005 deficit of $427 billion; the year-end result was $318 billion.

And in 2004, when Bush promised to cut the deficit in half by the end of his term, the White House projected a whopping $521 billion deficit. Even though the actual deficit for that year came in at $413 billion, Bush has used the higher figure as the benchmark for keeping his promise.

"The administration highballs the deficit estimate for the current year so come July and then October, and the deficit’s not quite as high as they said it was, they can say, ‘Gee, look, things have gotten better,’" said Jim Horney, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.

"It should be no surprise that two different organizations, using different analysts, different methodologies and different assumptions come to different math at the end of the day," said OMB Spokesman Scott Milburn. "Where there’s no difference, however, is that both OMB and CBO forecast that we meet the president’s goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009."

CBO’s analysis assumes Congress enacts Bush’s $72 billion request for conducting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a companion request for $20 billion in hurricane relief. The agency says Bush’s $50 billion request for 2007 would fall about $20 billion short if operations continue at this year’s pace.

With war costs remaining at current levels, CBO predicts a deficit for 2007 of $355 billion.

CBO’s analysis of the Bush budget plan is a prerequisite to lawmakers’ beginning work on the annual congressional budget resolution, which is the blueprint Congress follows when passing subsequent tax, spending and budget cut legislation.

The House and Senate Budget panels are expected to take up companion budget plans next week, but they are likely to drop Bush’s plans for $36 billion in cuts to Medicare over five years, chiefly by reducing inflationary increases to providers like hospitals and nursing homes.

© 2006 The Associated Press