Bush calls for balancing budget

Sunday, August 18, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush, weighing new tax cuts he said would stimulate the economy, pledged Saturday to bring the federal budget back into balance.

"We cannot go down the path of soaring budget deficits," Bush said.

The president used his weekly radio address to promote the no-deficits theme that emerged from the economic summit held last week near his ranch. That forum also yielded ideas for fresh tax cuts for small investors that could form the basis of a new White House economic plan.

"A common theme among many panelists was that we must leave every dollar we can in the hands of the people who have earned it," Bush said.

At the same time, he insisted upon fiscal discipline, drawing parallels between economic conditions during the Vietnam conflict and those now surrounding his war on terrorism.

In the 1960s, war spending was not balanced by cuts in the rest of government spending and, as a result, the 1970s saw deep unemployment, growing deficits and spiraling inflation, he said.

Election-year focus

Bush's focus on the resurrected deficit -- projected at $165 billion in the budget year ending Sept. 30, after four years of surpluses under his predecessor, Bill Clinton -- comes as the president and his economic and political teams wrangle with election-year ideas for reviving the economy.

Democrats saw a contradiction in Bush's overlapping signals on the deficit and tax cuts, which, under a no-deficit rubric, would have to be offset by trillions of dollars in spending cuts.

Gene Sperling, who was director of Clinton's National Economic Council, said Bush can't have it both ways.

"His policies are responsible for one of the most remarkable deteriorations in fiscal discipline," Sperling said. "For him, now, to casually call for trillions of dollars more in new or extended tax cuts and then lecture Democrats over a billion of spending here or there is laughable at best -- cynical and hypocritical at worst."

Bush last week canceled more than $5 billion approved by Congress for emergency spending on everything from homeland security to firefighters to AIDS prevention. He cited the need to put America back on the path to a balanced budget, an argument he reiterated on Saturday.

"For the good of our economy, for the good of the people who pay taxes, my administration will spend what is truly needed, and not a dollar more," Bush said in the radio broadcast.

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