Congress and the White House have become adept at passing legislation with hidden long-term price tags, but those huge costs began coming into view in Bush's latest spending plan. Even if Bush succeeds in slashing the deficit in half in four years, as he has pledged, his major policy prescriptions would leave his successor with massive financial commitments that begin rising dramatically the year he relinquishes the White House, according to an analysis of new budget figures.
Bush's extensive tax cuts, the new Medicare prescription drug benefit and, if it passes, his plan to redesign Social Security all balloon in cost several years from now. His plan to partially privatize Social Security, for instance, would cost a total of $79.5 billion in the last two budgets that Bush will propose as president and an additional $675 billion in the five years that follow. New Medicare figures likewise show the cost almost twice as high as originally estimated, largely because it mushrooms long after the Bush presidency.
"It's almost like you've got a budget, and you've got a shadow budget coming in behind that's a whole lot more expensive," said Philip G. Joyce, professor of public policy at George Washington University.
By the time the next president comes along, some analysts said, not only will there be little if any flexibility for any new initiatives, but the entire four-year term could be spent figuring out how to accommodate the long-range cost of Bush's policies.
"That president would have to face a very fundamental decision as to whether he would want to do what was right and be a one-term president or continue to play the same game and push it onto his successor," said Leon E. Panetta, who served as budget director and later White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. "That's really the choice that's going to face the next president."