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Wake up, smell the indebtedness D.C. Republicans can't have tax cuts, Iraq war and fix the Gulf Coast

When reality makes itself felt, even fantasists must take note. Which brings us to the current crop of Washington Republicans, who remain immune to the forces of reality. Even after the annihilation of New Orleans, they live in a financial Never Land; if you say it long enough, it will come true.

"It" in this case is the supposedly painless ability to cover the costs of rebuilding New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, while paying for the war in Iraq and maintaining a set of heal-the-wealthy tax cuts that did to the federal budget what Katrina did to the coast.

"It" can't be done. Even if Republicans enact some of the cuts they want -- including delays in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit and thousands of just-approved highway projects -- new dollars will have be found to pay for President Bush's vision of a resurrected New Orleans. Money of that magnitude can be found in only two ways: tax or borrow.

For decades, Republicans criticized their opponents as encouraging an irresponsible belief in the free lunch. The problem, for them, was that Democrats, liberals and other sinners were seeking to benefit the poor (as well as themselves). Now Republicans are doing the same thing, only in their case, they seek to protect those who don't need it: people of means.

We're not much for tax increases, and borrowing is way out of hand too. Because of high state and local taxes, especially, New Yorkers are some of the highest taxed people in the nation, and without much to show for it.

But Katrina has wrought a monumental crisis, of national concern and with national consequences, one that may be made worse by Hurricane Rita. If we are going to be responsible people, then the Bush administration and leaders of Congress are going to have to consider paying for the costs of this disaster by scrubbing some of the tax cuts they enacted over the past five years. Otherwise, they will end up borrowing, putting more of the country in the hands of foreign investors and burdening Americans for generations to come. That's evasion, not leadership.

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