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Investing for the future gets short shrift in the federal budget, says budget director Richard Darman, who has been waxing philosophical lately. In practical terms, the government puts its budget together under a cash accounting system that deals poorly with long-term investment and debt.

``We need a better way to deal with long-term issues,'' he said last week at a Monitor breakfast with reporters - perhaps a special capital-investment budget within the budget.

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In larger terms, the budget deficit itself - which has put Mr. Darman at the center of most policy debates in the Bush administration - is a sign of a deeper cultural problem. He calls it ``now-now-ism.''

He said in a recent speech: ``In our public policy - as, to some degree, in our private behavior - we consume today as if there were no tomorrow. ... The test is whether current expenditure satisfactorily increases future benefit and future capacity to pay. Unfortunately, much of ours does not.''

Meaning what? The space program is a prime investment, says Darman. ``Certain housing programs that don't work'' are not.

The capital-gains tax cut the administration is seeking in Congress promotes long-term investment, he says. The entitlement programs that have grown to half the federal budget do not.

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