The Surplus and Fuzzy Math

October 19, 2000

The presidential debates have certainly been a forum to talk about phony numbers and fuzzy math. But while the candidates debate each other's numbers, the biggest assumption in both of their plans is that there will be a major surplus in the first place.

Earlier in the week, I talked about the possibility that the surplus could be a fantasy. Today, I would like to return to that subject by looking at another possibility. Even if the surplus arrives, it is possible that federal discretionary spending will eat up two thirds of the projected $4.6 trillion federal surplus.

Let me pause long enough to point out that even the number $4.6 trillion is suspect. I have seen other estimates suggesting the federal surplus could be about half that. So even using a more generous number, it is possible that there will be less money available than either campaign wants to admit.

Here's the problem. Governmental discretionary spending is rising at a rate of about 5.5 percent each year. According to the Concord Coalition, two thirds of the projected surplus will be consumed just by the growth of existing programs. The only way that will not take place is if Congress becomes uncharacteristically tight-fisted. That is not likely to happen during a time of budget surpluses.

And the projections of surplus are based upon a continued stock market boom. The current federal surpluses come from the boom on Wall Street with resulting increased capital gains tax receipts. Is this boom going to continue? Not likely. And even a plateau will reduce the projected surplus. Imagine if the stock market falls.

So remember these numbers when you vote in November. Both candidates are betting on a generous surplus that might not be there for their programs.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.