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Washington shelved report of 44-trillion-dollar deficit
Thu May 29, 2003 8:53 AM ET

LONDON (AFP) - In the midst of negotiating a steep tax cuts package, the US government shelved a report that showed the United States faces future federal budget deficits of more than 44.2 trillion dollars.

President George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s administration chose to keep the findings -- commissioned by then-Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill -- out of the 2004 annual budget report, published in February, London's Financial Times reported.

The newspaper described the study as "the most comprehensive assessment of how the US government is at risk of being overwhelmed by the 'baby boom' generation's future healthcare and retirement costs."

The Financial Times hinted that the decision not to publish the report may have been because the White House was campaigning for a massive tax-cut package that critics claim will expand future deficits.

The study, according to the same source, said that sharp tax increases, massive spending cuts or both are unavoidable if the US is to meet benefit promises to future generations.

"It estimates that closing the gap would require the equivalent of an immediate and permanent 66 percent across-the-board income tax increase," the Financial Times said.

"The study was being circulated as an independent working paper among Washington think-tanks as Bush on Wednesday signed into law a 10-year, 350-billion-dollar tax-cut package he welcomed as a victory for hard-working Americans and the economy," the newspaper said.

Kent Smetters, then-Treasury deputy assistant secretary for economic policy, and Jagdessh Gokhale, then a consultant to the Treasury, were in charge of the analysis, the newspaper said.

"When we were conducting the study, my impression was that it was slated to appear (in the budget). At some point, the momentum builds and you think everything is a go, and then the decision came down that we weren't part of the prospective budget," Gokhale was quoted a saying in the front-page article.

O'Neill, who was fired last December, refused to comment, according to the same source.

The Bush administration has come under severe criticism for the tax cuts package, which come on top of a 10-year 1.65 trillion tax cut program enacted in 2001, at a time when the US economy is sputtering and unemployment is steadily rising.

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