Heads in the Sand

Thursday, 20 March 2003 19:18 by: Anonymous

     Heads in the Sand
     New York Times | Editorial

     Thursday 20 March 2003

     The biggest wartime secret fiercely kept by the White House seems to be the estimated dollar cost to the nation's taxpayers of invading, pacifying and rebuilding Iraq, from first shot to last. Congress is now flailing through a budget debate without this vital chunk of information on the public books. Instead, Republican leaders are laboring to lock in the second stage of President Bush's deficit-stoking tax cuts before presenting lawmakers with the full sticker shock of his war and its effect on the rising tide of red ink. Wartime patriotism, not rational disclosure, is being invoked as a motive for blindly approving a budget plan that even without the war costs factored in, will slash critical domestic programs, allow upper-bracket Americans another big tax break and greatly compound Bush deficits that already stretch across the next decade.

     Senate Democrats have failed in their worthy attempt to hold off approval of new tax cuts until the war's costs are clear. Off-the-wall estimates of $100 billion or more for the combat alone are floating around, but the administration remains about as transparent as a Stealth bomber in specifying the likely price. The president obviously fears that this information might feed the public debate about the wisdom of the war or at least the wisdom of his tax cuts.

     A few Republicans in both houses are restive about joining the evolving spectacle of cutting government revenues and services even war veterans' programs while deepening the deficit and taking a budgetary flier on Iraq. But in the face of Republican leaders' intransigence, the main hope for even denting the tax cut scheme seems an alternative Senate proposal that would cut the president's $725 billion plan down to $350 billion. This would presumably kill his $396 billion proposal to end the dividend tax. Opponents of all new tax cuts are balking at allowing Mr. Bush this half-a-loaf victory. But it may be the only available brake as the president and House leaders work to wrap a woeful budget outlook firmly in the flag.

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