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Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Bush faces dilemma over tax cuts

FISCAL POLICY The US president's plan to extend tax cuts while increasing spending in areas such as health would leave a gap of over US$1 trillion, analysts say

AFP , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush won the vote. Now he has to beat the math. Analysts say the logic is inescapable: you can't cut taxes deeper and still halve the deficit.

Bush's tax-cut mantra is: "It's not the government's money, it's the people's money." Whoever's money it is, analysts say the tax cuts are driving the country deeper into debt.

These are the 10-year outlook numbers, as calculated by the Concord Coalition, a grassroots advocate of fiscal responsibility:

Firstly, Bush wants to extend all his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts at a combined cost, along with other fiscal measures, of US$1.244 trillion.

Secondly, he has spending plans, including a health tax credit, adding a net US$82 billion to expenditure.

The result: a gap of US$1.32 trillion.

"Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush has refused to calibrate his drive for lower taxes with his support for expensive initiatives such as the global war on terrorism and a major expansion of Medicare," the coalition said in a recent report. "There is no reason to expect anything different in a second term."

Bush's administration, which also plans to trim the top corporate tax rate to 32 percent from 35 percent, announced a record deficit for the past fiscal year of US$413 billion.

Analysts say it is hard to square the tax-cut promises with a vow to halve the deficit in five years.

"Discussion of the budget deficit has had an Alice in Wonderland quality: the candidates spoke of budget discipline, while offering specific proposals to increase the deficit, coupled with vague promises to control spending," Lehman Brothers chief North American economist Ethan Harris said.

Neither Bush nor Democratic challenger John Kerry had shown how they might reform the pension and health system to cope with a flood of new dependants from a rapidly aging population, he said.

"But perhaps the most immediate challenge is on the international front," Harris said.

"The huge current account deficit is beginning to force down the dollar. Given the scope of the adjustment, some international coordination may well be needed. Will the new president embrace a coordinated effort or will there be a messy string of trade disputes and threats?" Harris said.

Even with fiscal doubts, financial markets will likely welcome a Bush win, said BMO Financial Group chief economist Tim O'Neill.

"Because Bush is a known factor in financial and economic terms, his re-election would probably cause the least stir," O'Neill said.

"If anything, there might be a moderately favorable response."

Bush says he backs free trade, but his administration has also proven willing to protect major industries, erecting huge tariffs on imported steel until they were ruled illegal by the WTO.

But for many Americans, the priority is job creation. The economy added 96,000 payroll jobs in September, leaving the economy with 820,000 fewer payroll jobs than when Bush took office.

"I don't think it is going to be that easy," said Wells Fargo Banks chief economist Sung Won Sohn.

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