Surplus Fantasy

October 17, 2000

Much of the debate in this presidential election has to do with how the candidates will spend the budget surplus. But few are talking about what will happen if the budget surplus doesn't go as planned. Allan Sloan writes in the October 9 issue of Newsweek about "The Surplus Fantasy."

His numbers (which neither campaign would confirm or deny) conclude that both Gore and Bush "would leave the country more indebted 10 years from now that it is today. That's because while investor-owned Treasury debt falls rapidly, the amount of Treasury securities in government trust funds, such as Social Security would rise even more rapidly."

Many of the numbers used depend upon Congressional Budget Office's projected 10-year surplus of $4.561 trillion. While both campaigns agree that estimate is wrong, they nevertheless make up their own estimates based on the CBO numbers to fund their programs over the next ten years.

The CBO numbers don't include various programs scheduled to be phased out which probably won't be. They don't make any serious assumptions about the real possibility that the stock market may cool or even dip. All they do is provide a range of numbers.

So what does the CBO predict for the year 2010? The optimistic estimate is a $1.2 trillion surplus, but the pessimistic estimate is a $286 billion deficit. That's quite a range! The CBO base line puts it at about $500 billion surplus. But given the range of estimates, that base line is essentially meaningless.

So the next time you hear the presidential candidates cite their estimate for the surplus, remember how variable those numbers can be. George W. Bush may not have enough for his tax cut, and Al Gore may not have enough for his spending programs. Neither might have enough for debt reduction.

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