Column: Deficit and debt deja vu

I could have sworn upon reading the most recent White House budget request for fiscal year 2003 that it was the early ’80s all over again. I keep seeing Michael Jackson atop the charts.

Everyone is wearing jelly bracelets, and NBA players are wearing these shorts that reveal almost as much as an exotic dancer. Plus, the federal government is thinking it can spend and cut its way out of recession and that runaway deficits are no big deal.

President Ronald Reagan is often given credit for the way he helped our nation recover from the recession left by the Carter administration. This is like saying if got sold tomorrow, whoever takes over should get the credit when it eventually turns a profit. All administrations and presidents can do is lay the foundation for economic stability and health. It takes time and sometimes just plain luck to have these things fall into place. Bill Clinton’s infamous 1993 budget package, which controversially passed by one vote in the Senate, finally took hold at the end of his administration. Its passage, along with cyclically good economic times, was responsible for the federal government actually running large surpluses toward the end of his term, not to mention record economic growth.

But with the attacks of Sept. 11 and the dot-com bubble bursting, Clinton’s successor has inherited a tougher situation. Add to that the public now no longer hopes that their 401(k)s and portfolios will rise in value, they undeniably expect it. The stock market is no longer the financial playground of the elite, and most Americans are in some way invested in Wall Street.

So then why would George W. turn to the mistakes of the past to create his policy of the present? Deficits and debt absolutely ballooned under Reagan, created by his huge increases in defense spending and large reductions in taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Sound familiar? It’s called “supply-side” economics by its supporters, was called “voodoo economics” by President Bush Sr., and “trickle-down” economics by everyone else. And it’s a major tenet of the new budget released by Bush.

The theory is that if you give the wealthy more money to invest and spend, they’ll invest in the economy and create more jobs, and spend more freely on goods and services, pumping even more money into the economy. Great plan, but one problem. The wealthy also end up not paying taxes on all that extra income generated from the original tax cut, and the government doesn’t have enough money to operate and stay balanced. And just like your credit card debt, eventually deficits can become monsters nearly impossible to tame.

The justification for large defense budgets and lower taxes on the upper class in the ’80s was to spark the economy and defeat communism. Now it’s to spark the economy and defeat terrorism. Terrorism may be much more of a real threat than communism was, but if we can’t afford to defend ourselves from rogue states, we should either peel back some of last year’s tax cut or reduce spending. Passing this debt along to our children would be making the same mistake twice.

Many programs, including highway funding, will be sliced in favor of keeping the previously passed 10-year, 1.3 trillion dollar tax cut passed by the Bush administration last year. So get out your pastels and Mr. T. starter kits, it looks like the ’80s are making a comeback.

  • Collin Sherwin is a senior majoring in political