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Yes: Is federal budget surplus nothing but smoke, mirrors and wishful thinking?

SHARE Yes: Is federal budget surplus nothing but smoke, mirrors and wishful thinking?

Washington is still basking in the afterglow of the budget deal.

According to those who crafted it, the budget will perform miracles and wonders, not the least of which is a balanced budget. But ask yourself this question: If the budget is balanced, why will the national debt continue to grow?Since 1983, the government has been collecting more for Social Security than it is paying out in benefits. The money was supposed to go into the Social Security Trust Fund to help pay for future retirees, including the heavy influx of baby boomers who will begin retiring around 2010.

Unfortunately, Social Security surpluses are being used to pay for current government programs. In short, there is no trust fund, just a stack of government IOUs. So even though Congress and President Clinton say they have balanced the budget, the government will still be going into debt to the tune of tens of billions of dollars every year.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Mark Neumann, R-Wis., the Social Security Preservation Act and National Debt Repayment Act, would change all that and reduce the burden America would otherwise heap on the backs of its children. These bills are not popular with many politicians because they would require honesty and discipline.

The Social Security Preservation Act is based on honesty. It would end the misuse of the Social Security Trust Fund, stop masking the true size of the federal deficit, and begin properly recording the debt owed to Social Security. The legislation would require that the surplus Social Security revenues be invested in real assets, such as marketable Treasury securities or certificates of deposit. This is much closer to the concept most Americans have in mind when they think of a trust fund.

The National Debt Repayment Act would force Congress to do something equally remarkable: be disciplined. Future government spending increases would be limited to one percentage point less than revenue growth, creating a surplus which would then be used to begin paying back the national debt and reducing taxes.

If enacted, the two bills would have significant benefits.

The Social Security Preservation Act, for example, would ensure that the Social Security Trust Fund contains real assets. Current projections show that Social Security will start paying out more benefits in 2012 than it collects in taxes. If there is no money in the Social Security Trust Fund, the government will have to cut benefits, increase taxes, borrow more money, or a combination of the three. With a trust fund holding real assets that can be tapped, Social Security is expected to be solvent until 2029, giving Washington time to reform the system.

Many people in Washington consider the Social Security Trust Fund to be just another slush fund that can and should be tapped for pet programs. Because of this mind-set, the 1983 changes to Social Security have not "saved" the program, as the politicians predicted. Quite the reverse, the changes have allowed then to increase the size of government and the national debt at the expense of working Americans.

Rep. Neumann should be congratulated for his refusal to conduct business as usual. For these bills to pass, however, the American people need to tell Washington enough is enough.