AL GORE: Pricey Promises Overstep Bounds of Budget
Would Vice President Al Gore's campaign proposals exceed the expected $3 trillion in budget surpluses over the next 10 years? The Wall Street Journal reports that Gore, if elected president, has pledged to devote two-thirds of that sum to Social Security and the rest to health insurance, Medicare and other causes, with $190 billion "for growth in some domestic programs and for proposals he would unveil later." But, he "has gone well beyond that reserve, endorsing programs that would cost between $420 billion and $530 billion." Those proposals include $109 billion for prescription drug coverage, $9 billion for cancer research and "several programs he hasn't placed price tags on," such as expanded health care coverage for the mentally ill. Those promises "could greatly lessen the money left for" Medicare and Social Security, the Journal reports.
A Campaign Tactic
Candidates' promises often "are hoarded, doled out, withdrawn or devalued to accumulate support in the constant dealmaking of campaigns" the Wall Street Journal reports. Former Clinton budget chief Leon Panetta explained: "All candidates are infamous for promising more in campaigns than they can actually deliver when they put together a budget." Robert Reischauer, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, added, "Candidates are supposed to be unveiling visions for America. Visions are never affordable; nor does every element come to pass." Gore used such tactics in courting senior citizens. He maintained that he had set aside $374 billion for Medicare, which at the time was projected to become insolvent by 2015; $74 billion of that would be used for a prescription drug benefit and $35 billion to expand a prescription drug plan for catastrophic illnesses. Budget promises are relatively easy to finesse, as they can be updated regularly and small changes in economic growth can be adjusted for. Such was the case when Medicare's solvency was extended eight years beyond 2015, which allowed Gore "to argue that his proposals to expand prescription drug coverage won't harm Medicare."
But in making campaign promises, Gore's aides "have used several gambits," including when Gore pledged an unspecified amount to expand coverage for those with mental illness. Based on how mental health parity has driven up costs between 1% and 4% annually for private employers, parity could cost Medicare an additional $20 billion to $80 billion over the next 10 years, a number Gore "hasn't worked into his spending projections." A Gore aide maintains, however, that the cost would only add about 1% to Medicare, because the program "already provides generous benefits for mental illness." In the meantime, the Gore campaign has posted a new pie chart on its Web site, explaining how it would handle expenditures. Chief issues adviser Elaine Kamarck said that "all the programs will fit within Gore's promise of preserving the $2 trillion surplus devoted to Social Security" (Davis, 4/19).