The great debt society

The Republican-run House has spared itself the embarrassment of being unable to agree on a budget by narrowly approving a blueprint for spending $2.8 trillion in fiscal 2007.

Even then it only passed in the wee hours Thursday on a promise to several GOP moderates that several billion in projected cuts in education and health programs would be quietly restored down the road.

And to get an acceptable number the House budgeted only $50 billion next year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — it’s likely to be twice that — and leaving out the long-term costs altogether. It also omits the annual cost of capping the Alternative Minimum Tax.

The budget assumes future, politically improbable cuts in education and veterans medical care while scrapping for this election year cuts President Bush had asked for in such politically popular programs as Medicare, Medicaid and farm subsidies.

The House leadership praised itself for enforcing spending discipline and so did Bush, even though the House would spend more than he asked for in his own budget.

Only in Planet Washington is this spending discipline. What this budget does is borrow, and then borrow some more.

The budget raised the ceiling on the national debt $653 billion to $9.6 trillion and put in an automatic increase next year to $10 trillion, freeing the lawmakers from the awkward task of having to vote on borrowing yet more money. And the lawmakers will borrow: The budget calls for the deficit to grow $254 billion over five years

As a side effect, the interest on the national debt is now the second fastest rising cost in the budget after Medicare. This year, the interest payments will cost $211 billion, about 8.2 percent of federal spending, and they will increase by another $132 billion over five years.

What savings there in the House budget would go not to deficit reduction but to underwrite $228 billion in tax cuts over the next five years.

Recall that when Bush took office the budget was in balance; there was a projected five-year surplus of over $5 trillion; the national debt stood at $5.7 trillion and was actually starting to decline.

The House’s new spending plan is not a budget as someone who actually has to live on one would understand it.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,