Surprising Jump in Tax Revenues Is Curbing Deficit
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS
Published: July 9, 2006
WASHINGTON, July 8 — An unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy is driving down the projected budget deficit this year, even though spending has climbed sharply because of the war in Iraq and the cost of hurricane relief.
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Graphic: Mixed Signals On Tuesday, White House officials are expected to announce that the tax receipts will be about $250 billion above last year's levels and that the deficit will be about $100 billion less than what they projected six months ago. The rising tide in tax payments has been building for months, but the increased scale is surprising even seasoned budget analysts and making it easier for both the administration and Congress to finesse the big run-up in spending over the past year.
Tax revenues are climbing twice as fast as the administration predicted in February, so fast that the budget deficit could actually decline this year.
The main reason is a big spike in corporate tax receipts, which have nearly tripled since 2003, as well as what appears to be a big increase in individual taxes on stock market profits and executive bonuses.
On Friday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that corporate tax receipts for the nine months ending in June hit $250 billion — nearly 26 percent higher than the same time last year — and that overall revenues were $206 billion higher than at this point in 2005.
Congressional analysts say the surprise windfall could shrink the deficit this year to $300 billion, from $318 billion in 2005 and an all-time high of $412 billion in 2004.
Republicans are already arguing that the revenue jump proves that their tax cuts, especially the 2003 tax cut on stock dividends, would spur the economy and ultimately increase revenues.
"The tax relief we delivered has helped unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of America and kept our economy the envy of the world," President Bush said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.
Democrats and many independent budget analysts note that overall revenues have barely climbed back to the levels reached in 2000, and that the government has borrowed trillions of dollars against Social Security surpluses just as the first of the nation's baby boomers are nearing retirement.
"The fact is that revenues are way below what the administration said they would be a few years ago," said Thomas S. Kahn, staff director for Democrats on the House Budget Committee. "The long-term prognosis is still very, very bleak, and the administration doesn't have any kind of long-term plan."
One reason the run-up in taxes looks good is because the past five years looked so bad. Revenues are up, but they have lagged well behind economic growth.
The surge could also evaporate as quickly as it appeared. Over the past decade, tax revenues have become much more volatile, alternately soaring and plunging in the wake of swings in the stock market and repeatedly defying government projections.
Nevertheless, the short-term change has been striking. At the beginning of the year, the Congressional Budget Office projected that this year's deficit would be $371 billion and the White House Office of Management and Budget put the figure at $423 billion.
Corporate tax payments are expected to exceed $300 billion, up from $131 billion three years ago. The other big increase is an extraordinary jump in individual taxes that were not withheld from paychecks, usually a reflection of taxes on investment income and executive bonuses.
The jump in receipts is providing Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress with a new opportunity to assert that tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are working and that Congress should make them permanent.
Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth, a conservative political fund-raising group, said: "The supply-siders were absolutely right. All the major sources of revenue have grown, especially in areas where we said they would."
But budget analysts, supporters and critics of Mr. Bush alike, cautioned that this year's windfall would do little to improve the government's long-term budget woes.
Government spending under Mr. Bush continued to climb rapidly this year, more than twice as fast as the economy. Spending on the war in Iraq has accelerated, to about $120 billion this year.
Far more ominously, the nation's oldest baby boomers will be eligible for Social Security benefits in just two years. Conservatives and liberals alike predict a huge escalation in costs of Social Security and Medicare over the next several decades.