Bush claims credit for deficit drop


The budget deficit won’t be as bad as President Bush predicted earlier this year.

A surge in taxes paid by corporations and the wealthy promises to bring the budget deficit to less than $300 billion instead of the $423 billion forecast by the White House in February.

Bush himself was trumpeting the good news Tuesday morning as a validation of his pro-growth tax cuts and his clampdown on domestic agencies funded by Congress.

However, the results will likely be less impressive when compared to the $318 billion deficit posted last fall for fiscal 2005. Despite strong revenues, the high costs of the Iraq war and Gulf Coast hurricane relief have weighed on the deficit _ as have higher interest payments paid on the national debt.

According to Congressional Budget Office Figures released Friday, revenues are running $206 billion greater than those realized over a comparable period last year.

The nonpartisan CBO, which makes estimates for lawmakers, also said that the deficit for the first three quarters of fiscal 2006 came in $41 billion less than the red ink recorded for the same period in 2005. The budget year ends Sept. 30.

Those CBO figures say receipts are surging at an 13 percent growth rate, reflecting particularly strong growth in taxes paid on corporate profits and income taxes paid by wealthier people and small businessmen who pay taxes quarterly instead of having them withheld by employers. Those tax collections are more prone to fluctuate, budget experts say.

Income and payroll taxes paid by individuals, which tend to be more stable, are growing at a slower 8 percent rate, CBO says.

“We’ve had extraordinarily good profit growth, and when you have better profit growth than wage growth you tend to have windfall tax revenues because taxes on profits are higher than taxes on wages,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist for Mesirow Financial, a Chicago-based financial services firm.

Swonk predicted that the unexpected revenue surge would ease around the end of the year as profits peak.

Bush has had few opportunities to boast about the deficit over the course of his time in office. He inherited in 2001 a surplus estimated by both White House and congressional forecasters at $5.6 trillion over the subsequent decade, and it quickly dwindled.

Those faulty estimates assumed the late-1990s revenue boom _ fueled by the stock market and dot.com booms _ would continue. But that bubble burst, and a recession and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks started a flow of red ink. Several rounds of tax cuts, including Bush’s signature $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2001, also contributed to the return to deficits four years ago after four years of budget surpluses.

Even before the release of the figures, critics poked at the White House figures, citing, for example how they are at odds from Bush’s original budget released in 2001, which predicted a $305 billion surplus for the current year, even after accounting for tax cuts.

“The deficit’s probably going to be in the range of $300 billion and that still represents a swing of about $600 billion from what was projected in 2001,” said Rep. John Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, top Democrat on the Budget Committee. “You’ve still got triple-digit deficits for as far as the eye can see.”

Some budget experts say the steep rise in tax receipts looks more impressive than it really is since revenues are bouncing back from a three-year decline during Bush’s first term, drops not seen since the Great Depression.

“The current so-called revenue surge is merely restoring revenues to where they were half a decade ago,” said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank. That’s after accounting for inflation and population growth.

Still, the new figures should allow Bush to claim credibly that he will meet his promise, made in early 2004, that he will cut the deficit in half by the end of his second term. Then, the White House forecast the deficit to be $521 billion for the 2004 budget year, setting the goal of $260 billion by 2009.

© 2006 The Associated Press

Comments are closed.