Democrats certainly must realize that they need to be careful how far they get into this debate over 'triggers.' The substance of the Democratic argument is that even if the rosy budget predictions prove true, the Bush plan still doesn't leave sufficient funds for important domestic priorities like a prescription drug benefit; and too much of the cuts go to the very wealthy. The fact that the plan will throw us back into deficits if the predictions don't pan out is just icing on the politico-economic cake.
But as long as 'triggers' are the subject du' jour, let's look at some of the lamer ideas being tossed around.
Senator Bob Torricelli is hawking a trigger that the president can waive. As this article by Bob Novack explains, Torricelli would have a trigger kick in if the surplus numbers don't pan out. But the president could waive the trigger (sort of uncock it, I guess) if he made a 'finding of fact' that holding off on the tax cuts would not be in the best interests of the economic health of the country.
Now let's just start with the most obvious reasons this is boneheaded idea.
If you're a Dem you've got to wonder why Torricelli feels the need to cover Bush's rear when even Republican moderates aren't wild about the size of Bush's tax bill.
More importantly, can anyone really imagine any situation in which George W. would not make 'a finding of fact' that postponing tax cuts would not be in the best interests of the country.
But forget about George W. Bush. Given the loaded phrasing of the waiver language and the vagueness of the standard, this wouldn't be a 'finding of fact.' More like a finding of ideology. What it really means is that in the latter years of this decade the president would make fiscal policy by executive order.
It's really hard to think of a stupider idea. If you can think of one, send it here.
(And as far as Torch is concerned, doesn't he worry that if he keeps sticking his finger in his party's eye, they may decide to stop carrying water for him on all those indictments hanging over his head ... Just a thought.)
Now let's go to the second anti-trigger argument making the rounds. Republicans have responded to calls for a tax-cut trigger with their own calls for a spending-cut trigger. If the surpluses don't come in, cut spending, not taxes, they say. This of course is because spending is out of control, government's the problem not the solution ... yada, yada, yada.
But wait a second. George W. is president now! Legitimate or not, he is president. We're having this whole debate on the basis of his numbers. His budget projections, his tax cut, his projected spending -- the whole kit-and-caboodle, as my Dad would say.
So Bush can't pretend that we're talking about some hypothetical, future Barney Frank-Maxine Waters budget bill. You can barely make the numbers to work with Bush's pinched budget. And this raises the obvious question: which spending that Bush has called for does he think should be cut if the surpluses don't pan out. The new education spending, the promised new spending on the military, NIH funding? What?
Bush's opponents say he puts his tax cut before domestic priorities his budget doesn't fund - a prescription drug benefit, new education spending. But that's only the half of it. It turns out that Bush even puts his tax cut before domestic priorities he does fund.
In any case, the tax cuts are spelled out, so none of this everything-in-general 'cut spending' line. Let's get it on the table, which of Bush's own spending priorities don't matter enough to get in the way of his tax cut.