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Dreams on the campaign trail: tax cuts and deficit reduction

It all sounds so positive and forthright — the promises the candidates are parroting as they try to persuade voters to give them the job of running the country.

“If you elect me, I will … get the economy back on track … devise a workable, affordable health care program … solve the problems of Social Security and Medicare … eliminate waste in government … restore trust in the system … achieve a workable solution for Iraq/Afghanistan … ease the housing/mortgage crisis … cope with the massive federal debt, curb inflation, and restore fiscal soundness, blah, blah, blah.”

All the time knowing full well that whoever gets to usher George Bush out of the White House next January will inherit a helluva mess that is not going to be quickly or easily resolved.

One would be hard-pressed to name a time when the country has been in such governmental disarray and disunity. It's kinda like the runaway mine train at Disney-World, with an engineer who's got the throttle wide open while blithely assuring the passengers everything's hunky-dory and, uhhh, pay no attention to the gaping gorge the train's about to hurtle into.

It is one of the ironies of the age that a party and a president with the mantle of “conservative” have spent money — your money — like the proverbial drunken sailor, in less than two terms going from a sizable Treasury surplus to all-time record debt.

No matter who becomes president, and no matter how much they insist on the campaign trail that they're going to bring tax reform, the reality is that we're pretty darn certain to either (1) be paying more taxes and facing even more stringent cuts in governmental programs or (2) continuing the present spending/debt splurge, worsening the financial quagmire that's been created over the past seven years and imposing an even more onerous burden on our children and grandchildren.

Where to start with the grim news?

Well, there are all the Bush tax cuts, many of which were written to “sunset” after he leaves office. If they're allowed to expire, it's higher taxes; if they're continued, it's more debt. If the increasingly oppressive alternative minimum tax is revoked or reduced in severity, that will mean fewer dollars into the Treasury; if not, more people will be paying the AMT.

Medicare, with its absurdly expensive, non-competitive prescription program that's a multi-billion-dollar giveaway for the drug companies, and Social Security, in trouble but more easily fixable than Medicare, are fiscal Damocles swords. Yet, the current administration, while granting tax breaks to the wealthy, wants to cut benefits to seniors trying to make ends meet.

Skyrocketing energy prices, fed by speculators who are reaping billions in profits, food prices that are rising more rapidly than in almost two decades, and other escalating costs are increasing inflation, “the cruelest tax of all.” And then there's the never-ending, trillion-dollar-plus war.

Beyond the potential for higher tax bills, we can also expect the inevitable program cuts as lawmakers try to stanch the mounting deficit — an exercise in which farm programs always seem to be a prime target.

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