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Bill Press is a syndicated columnist and the co-host of CNN's Crossfire, which airs Monday-Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Bill Press: Bush leads U.S. from A-OK to IOU

By Bill Press, Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON (Tribune Media Services) -- Which would you rather have, a president who lies about sex, or a president who lies about the budget?

We know Bill Clinton lied about his personal sex life. He said he didn't have an affair with Monica Lewinsky when in fact he did, sort of. At the time, that was considered the worst thing any president could do. Americans were shocked. He was even impeached for it.

And now we know George Bush is lying about the budget. And thatís pretty shocking, too.

The big Bush budget lie was unveiled this week by the Congressional Budget Office. Letís stop there for a moment. There are two sources for budget information: the White House and the CBO. In any administration, one is partisan, the other is non-partisan. One cooks the books, the other reports the facts. No matter who is president, I'll trust the CBO over the White House. You should, too.

According to the CBO, the mighty U.S. surplus -- on which Bushís across-the-board tax cut was based -- has melted quickly and dramatically, from a projected $275 billion in May to $153 billion today. Thatís a loss of $122 billion in expected revenue in just 4 months.

Only one-third of that reduction, says the CBO, is due to the ongoing economic slowdown, but two-thirds of it disappeared in the Bush tax cut.

Making matters worse, almost every penny of that still-intact $153 billion isnít really a government surplus, at all. Itís extra money collected by Social Security taxes. Itís that famous ďlockboxĒ -- which every Republican and Democrat has promised never to steal from again, under pain of death, because it belongs to seniors and should not be tapped to pay for fixing potholes or paying government salaries.

But this year, the White House and the Congress will be forced to raid the lockbox. Just paying for current government obligations -- no new spending -- will require taking $9 billion from the Social Security surplus in the current fiscal year, $18 billion in 2003, and another $3 billion in 2004.

Dancing to explain how he managed to lead the country from A-OK to IOU in just 4 months, President Bush has come up with two answers, neither of them convincing. First, he blames the Congress for big spending. This is absolute nonsense. The only new money in the budget this year is for education and defense, both of which Bush asked for himself, and neither of which has yet been approved.

Next, Bush does what all Republicans do whenever thereís bad news. He blames Bill Clinton, arguing that Clintonís policies caused the economy to decline, but that it will bounce back, as soon as the tax cut kicks in. Wrong again.

The eight Clinton years were a time of unprecedented economic growth, at the end of which came a natural slowdown.

But thereís no sign the Bush tax cut has re-stimulated the economy at all, so far. And, again, according to the CBO, the worst is yet to come, because the Bush tax cut grows over time, requiring even more money to be stolen from Social Security in the years ahead.

Which is just what George Bush promised never to do. As a candidate, he insisted there was enough money to cut taxes, increase military spending and pay for prescription drug benefits without dipping into the Social Security surplus. As president, he vowed he would never, never touch the Social Security surplus. Heís lucky his nose didn't grow.

The truth is, Bush has nobody to blame but himself. On a macro level, he made the same stupid mistake everyone of us, on the micro level, has learned to avoid. He spent money he didn't have. Worse yet, he gave away money the government didn't have. He pushed a tax cut through Congress without knowing how much money was in the bank. He squandered the surplus on an irresponsible tax cut. And now he has no choice but to steal from Social Security or go back to the days of deficit spending.

Which would you rather have, a president who lies about sex, or a president who lies about the budget? Frankly, I'd rather have a president who lies about nothing. But lying about the budget is a lot more serious than lying about sex, because it hurts a lot more people. Impeachment hearings, anyone?

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