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WASHINGTON — The Concord Coalition today released
an issue brief that describes how Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore
plan to use the projected budget surplus.  Entitled
The Surplus Field of Dreams: Build it

WASHINGTON — The Concord Coalition today released
an issue brief that describes how Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore
plan to use the projected budget surplus.  Entitled
The Surplus Field of Dreams: Build it
and they will come
the brief and accompanying chart
Adobe Acrobat Reader
) are now available
.  Excerpts follow:

“Presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore have placed their respective
budget blueprints at the center of the 2000 campaign. Both advocate committing a
substantial portion of the projected $4.6 trillion budget surplus over the next 10 years
to new initiatives
¾ whether tax cuts or spending
increases. Moreover, both promise to nearly eliminate the $3.4 trillion publicly held
national debt within a decade.

Big tax cuts, new entitlements,
higher spending on popular programs and debt reduction all at the same time? It sounds too
good to be true, and it probably is. Unprecedented surplus projections have allowed Gore
and Bush to build a $4.6 trillion field of dreams. Will the voters come? Before buying a
ticket, The Concord Coalition recommends that voters take a hard look at the possibility
that the field of dreams may never materialize, and the extent to which either of the
candidates’ budget blueprints could land us back in the red.

…The first thing to keep in mind about the $4.6 trillion surplus is that it doesn’t
exist. The money is not sitting in a vault at the Treasury Department waiting to be spent
on new programs or rebated in the form of tax cuts. It is a projection of what might
happen given a set of assumptions about the economy, revenues and spending. Slight, and
entirely conceivable, changes in those assumptions produce dramatically different results
over a period as long as 10 years.

A key assumption behind the $4.6 trillion surplus projection is that for 10 years
discretionary spending will grow no faster than the rate of inflation, roughly 2.7 percent
a year. While on paper this may sound plausible, the reality is that since 1962 there has
not been a single period in which discretionary spending grew no faster than the rate of
inflation for 10 consecutive years.

…However, a very different pattern has emerged with the development of budget
surpluses. Since fiscal year 1998, discretionary spending has increased from $555 billion
to a likely level of at least $652 billion in fiscal year 2001
¾ an average annual rate of 5.5 percent,
more than double the rate projected in the CBO baseline.
If discretionary spending continues
to grow at the same rate it has over the past three years, two-thirds of the projected
non-Social Security surplus vanishes.
Current Trend Baseline 2001-2010
(Requires Adobe
Acrobat Reader

the Field of Dreams
The Candidates’ Plans for the Surplus

  • Both
    Presidential candidates begin with the assumption that the total budget surplus over the
    next 10 years will reach $4.561 trillion. This is the most recent projection of the CBO,
    assuming that discretionary spending (non-entitlements plus interest) will grow no faster
    than the rate of inflation.
  • Both
    candidates pledge that the ‘off-budget’ Social Security surplus, which accounts
    for $2.388 trillion of the total (52%), will be reserved for either debt reduction (Gore)
    or a combination of debt reduction and Social Security reform (Bush).
  • The
    remaining $2.173 trillion ‘on-budget’ surplus is then used for tax cuts, new
    spending, and additional debt reduction.

  • The money used for new policy proposals (tax cuts and spending increases) is no longer
    available for debt reduction, which increases the government’s debt service costs.  Any unallocated surplus constitutes a margin for
    error, which automatically reduces the publicly held debt.

  • The
    major difference between the two plans is in how each would deal with the on-budget
    surplus. For purposes of this analysis, The Concord Coalition gives each candidate the
    benefit of the doubt by assuming that their respective estimates of their policy proposals
    are accurate. It should be noted, however, that substantial disagreements exist over the
    cost estimates of many items. (see chart: Surplus Field of Dreams
    (Requires Adobe
    Acrobat Reader
  • Imbedded
    in the numbers are a number of ‘offsets,’ which are frequently unspecified. For
    example, the Bush spending proposals include $196 billion of presumed offsets for
    unspecified ‘government reforms.’ Without these offsets, the Bush spending
    proposals would cost $475 billion
  • Percentage of the non-Social
    Security surplus committed to new policies:

    Including offsets Not including

The Concord Coalition believes that policy makers, including the Presidential candidates,
should resist the temptation to “pay for” tax cuts or entitlement expansions
with projected budget surpluses. These surpluses are not money in the bank. They are
based, to some extent, on optimistic assumptions about discretionary spending and to
another extent on continued favorable economic trends…
The Concord Coalition agrees with
CBO’s observation that, ‘projecting the economy and the budget under [current]
circumstances is more uncertain than usual.’  In
other words, the candidates may just be playing on a field of dreams.”

The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan, grass roots organization dedicated to balanced
federal budgets and generationally responsible fiscal policy.  Former U.S. Senators Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) and
Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) serve as Concord’s co-chairs and former Secretary of Commerce Peter
Peterson serves as president.   The
organization does not endorse, support or oppose candidates for public office or political

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