Paul Bites Deficit

JOURNALISM SCHOOLS TEACH that when man bites dog, it's news, so you might think that a tax-phobic watchdog group's praise for U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone might rate some local coverage. Curiously, however, the Star Tribune ignored a provocative recent report from the National Taxpayers' Union rating the Minnesota Democrat high on its deficit-reduction scorecard--higher, even, than that alleged budget-slasher, Republican Senator Rod Grams.

The NTU limited its analysis to specific 1995 tax-and-spend proposals, not the pie-in-the-sky plans offered for effect. Through September 1, Wellstone had proposed $2.4 billion in new spending and $8.4 billion in cuts--primarily to defense and corporate welfare programs--lowering the deficit overall by $6.1 billion. Wellstone, who ranked 77th of 100 Senate spenders, helped his standing by not introducing his perennial plan for single-payer health care, which shifts costs onto the tax rolls from private premiums.

Grams, who emerged as the 17th biggest spender, stood to boost the deficit by $3.6 billion. According to NTU figures, the man elected by sticking to the anti-tax script proposed $5.3 billion in new outlays--and $1.7 billion in specific cuts.

The NTU did not rate Medicare or Medicaid plans, and completely excluded Grams's call for a 2-percent across-the-board cut. "These kind of bills don't cut the mustard," NTU analyst Joel White told AP writer Philip Brasher, whose story was picked up only by some outstate Minnesota papers.

Grams's sort of mustard did make the Pioneer Press salivate. Despite the NTU's own criticism of nonspecific cuts, PP Washington correspondent Bill Salisbury chose fuzzier NTU rankings based on all tax-and-spend proposals no matter how likely they were to pass--figures which, upholding conventional wisdom, favored Grams.

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