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WIPE OUT THE DEFICIT?

WIPE OUT THE DEFICIT?

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You have to admire Rep. DanRostenkowski. The House Ways and Means Committee chairman has proposed a bold plan that would wipe out the federal deficit in five years and begin to build a budget surplus to pay for critical needs in education, transportation, child care, job training, aid to emerging democracies and a host of other areas. The notion of eliminating the deficit is so appealing that even President Bush, despite his read-my-lips pledge on taxes, has greeted the plan positively.Rostenkowski's plan, outlined by the Chicago Democrat in Sunday's Commentary section, is not without controversy or cost. It would freeze all federal spending for one year, with the exception of means-test programs for poorest citizens. It would earmark the ``peace dividend' from cuts in defense spending exclusively to deficit reduction. It would freeze tax indexing for inflation for one year. It would add a third, 33-percent income tax bracket for the wealthiest citizens. And it would increase taxes on oil, pollutants, alcohol and tobacco.

Politically speaking, that's a mouthful. Rostenkowski's plan includes items that are anathema to both liberals and conservatives. But the end result of deficit elimination in five years is a very tempting goal. It would be the first step in paying off a gigantic federal debt, now at $2.2 trillion, that will otherwise be left for the next generation to cope with - at much greater cost.

While Rostenkowski's medicine would be harsh to swallow, its unpleasant aftertaste would not last long. The freezes on spending and indexing he proposes would last for only a year. The tax increases would affect either users of specific products, such as cigarettes or oil, or the wealthiest individuals. Through the use of expanded tax credits, the effect on the poor would be minimal.

The most politically troubling part of Rostenkowski's plan may be its call for a freeze on all tax-cut proposals. That includes both President Bush's capital gains tax cut and Sen. Daniel Moynihan's Social Security tax cut.

But what makes the Rostenkowski plan stand out is its comprehensiveness - its willingness to address the federal deficit head-on, rather than piecemeal, or with the usual smoke and mirrors. Rostenkowski's challenge is this: It you can produce a better plan to rid us of the deficit in five years, let's see it.

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