Why Not Subsidize Health Care Through the Tax Code?
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Jackie Calmes of the WSJ on the Bush Budget

How do you report on a budget proposal that is neither (a) what a strong president hopes to get congress to approve, or (b) what a weak president wants to set out as his initial position for negotiations with congress, but is instead (c) a political-propaganda document? Jackie Calmes takes a shot at it:

WSJ.com - Bush's Deficit Math Sidesteps Some Big Outlays : By JACKIE CALMES February 7, 2006; Page A2: WASHINGTON -- President Bush projects the deficit will widen again this year to $423 billion, but steadily shrink for the rest of his term if his new budget proposals are adopted. But even if they were, which isn't likely, there are significant caveats to the rosy scenario.

In the budget request sent to Congress yesterday, Mr. Bush revived his unsuccessful bid to divert surplus Social Security payroll-tax revenue to personal accounts for workers. But with Mr. Bush promising to cut the deficit in half by the time he leaves office in 2009, the change wouldn't take effect until fiscal 2010. From then, through fiscal year 2016, it would add $712 billion to annual deficits, according to the administration.

For Social Security's long-term solvency, the president renewed his call for "progressive indexing" of initial benefits, which would reduce them from promised levels for all but the poorest workers. But the idea wasn't reflected in his budget, and Mr. Bush won't be pressing the idea in an election year. An administration aide said he won't send legislation to Congress, and Budget Director Josh Bolten didn't mention the idea in his news conference on the president's priorities....

[C]urrent government projections assume Mr. Bush's first-term tax cuts would all expire by 2011. But Mr. Bush hopes to extend them, for a revenue loss put at $1.8 trillion over 10 years. Current forecasts also assume more middle-income Americans will be paying the "alternative minimum tax," which was intended for wealthy taxpayers who otherwise can use tax breaks to reduce or wipe out their income-tax liability. But the president and Congress want to fix or repeal the AMT. That also would reduce anticipated revenues in coming years.... The AMT "is something that we hope can be addressed in the context of revenue-neutral fundamental tax reform," Mr. Bolten said. But other Bush officials in recent days have said the administration has no plans to pursue tax overhaul, only to make the tax cuts permanent.

It is also unclear that Congress will follow Mr. Bush's proposals for reducing spending, especially for Medicare and Medicaid, in an election year. He is seeking greater reductions in the programs' spending than he did last year, yet lawmakers in recent days managed only to narrowly approve that package...