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Bush by the numbers

ANY FAMILY that borrowed $1 of every $5 it spent would soon be hauled into bankruptcy court. Yet President Bush's campaign aides were touting the news yesterday that this year's federal budget deficit is estimated at only $422 billion -- a new record by only $47 billion.

The Bush camp grasped at the only straw it could find in the new estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office: The deficit forecast for this year is $55 billion less than the CBO's forecast in March.

But the Bush campaign ignored the fact that the $422 billion would be an all-time high and that the record being broken is its own -- the $375 billion in red ink that it ran up last year. Even more serious is the CBO's new long-term projection: that the deficits over the next 10 years will total nearly $2.3 trillion -- almost $300 billion more than the office had previously estimated.

Under Bush, the White House no longer makes 10-year estimates, but it has no trouble promoting policies that jeopardize the nation's long-term economic well-being. Many Bush-sponsored tax cuts will have their greatest impact on government spending in future years. And if he succeeds in making them permanent, the burden on the next generation will be crushing.

In reality, the struggling economy drags on Bush's reelection prospects every day, and the campaign knows it. While some press aides tried yesterday to put the best possible spin on the new CBO numbers, Bush himself kept the focus on security issues and Iraq.

Likewise, last week's employment report indicated a gain of 144,000 jobs, which the Bush campaign trumpeted. But it didn't keep the focus there for long -- with good reason. While any gain is better than a loss, the United States needs to produce 150,000 new jobs per month just to keep pace with its growing work force. Overall, employment during this administration is down by 900,000 nationwide, or 1.6 million if an increase in government hiring is excluded. Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to seek reelection after presiding over a net loss of jobs -- a fact John Kerry mentions whenever he is taking a break from defending himself.

Budget deficits make dry fodder for debate. But they say more about an administration's concern for future generations than any single program.

Next month the government is expected to bump up against the current debt ceiling -- already a debilitating $7.38 trillion. The Treasury has already asked Congress to raise that figure for the third time in three years.

Short-term practicality will likely require the approval of a higher ceiling. But long-term prudence calls for an administration that will cherish future generations by bringing the deficits down. 

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