EXTRAVAGANCE and economy do not usually come out of the same personality but Uncle Sam today is giving a curious exhibition of both tendencies in the simultaneous operation of two distinctly opposite polices.
Talk to any cabinet officer nowadays, the ones at the head of regular departments, and they make wry faces about how hard it is to get the budget bureau to realize that it takes money to carry on the routine operations of the government. Then look at some of the emergency commissions, corporations and administrations, and they are spending billions and billions of dollars.
The difference is of course that Lew Douglas, director of the budget, feels a particular responsibility to keep down the normal budget of operating expenses and knows these regular items must carry on in the next decade even if the economic depression is over. As for the emergency institutions, they will be suddenly terminated whenever conditions make it possible to do so. A comparison then will be on the basis of the regular and not the emergency expenses.
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The budget bureau has its agents in virtually every department of the government. The estimates for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 1934, are now being made up. They will have to be ready very soon for presidential approval. Before this step is taken the budget bureau's representatives must agree with the departmental officers on the approximate amounts to be spent.
The normal budget in certainly getting drastic treatment. As for the emergency budget, this involves a mandate from Congress to do specific things to aid the national emergency. Here the government officials themselves differ as to the wisdom of the many millions being spent but they have no discretion. The President has taken the position that he must carry out the wishes of Congress. Public opinion, however, may at any time become aroused as to the vast expenditures and demand their diminution. There are no signs of it yet, for there is scarcely a state or section which isn't after some of the $3,300,000,000 to be spent for public works. Much of this money has gone for naval construction and other items that usually find their place in the regular budgets. Transfer of many millions has taken place.
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While this method of bookkeeping is open to criticism, there is no doubt that Lew Douglas some day will be able to keep the normal budget from being increased by protesting against any transfers back to the operating budget of items that the public will insist shall not be continued. If the people, for example, demand the abolition of the emergency budget, there will be a scramble to get in once more on the regular budget. Since the latter will have been brought to a low point during the depression and since a demand for tax reduction is inevitable, the political parties will have plenty to talk about if the normal budget shows any considerable expansion.
The emergency budget and the regular budget will mean a $4,000,000,000 deficit for the fiscal year ending next June. The effort is to cut that deficit down materially by trying to avoid the same amount of emergency expenditures in the fiscal year ending in June, 1935. Announcement of the estimated emergency budget will be made around the first of the year, but Congress will have the final say as to its size.