NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is Congress Counting Its Chickens...?

November 3, 1997

Although the federal budget deficit in fiscal year 1997 was down to $22.6 billion, it was still a deficit, budget hawks in Congress are pointing out. They say that while projections of a budget surplus in the next few years abound, a stumble by the U.S. economy could throw them all out the window.

Meanwhile, many in Congress are dreaming up ways to dispose of whatever surplus may appear.

  • Some members want to embark on vast spending programs -- with money for roads and bridges, health, education, defense, schools and scientific programs leading the lists.
  • Republicans generally favor using the anticipated funds either to pay down the $5.3 trillion national debt -- the interest on which accounts for 15 percent of all federal spending -- or as the basis for annual tax cuts.
  • Still other proposals involve using the money to help address the looming shortfall in financing for Social Security benefits and the Medicare system.
  • Those who favor cutting taxes argue that lower taxes would stimulate the economy, thereby enlarging the overall tax base and stimulating even greater government revenues.

Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Budget Committee, thinks discussions of what to do with anticipated surpluses are premature. "We need to stop hyperventilating and complete the job of balancing the budget," he said recently.

Source: Richard W. Stevenson, "Debate Heats Up on How to Expend Future Surpluses," New York Times, November 3, 1997.


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