President Eisenhower has laid his monster budget on the chopping block, but Congress, unaccustomed to such an offer, wants him at least to suggest where the axe might fall. The situation is almost ludicrous, except for the dangerous possibilities it entails. Unless the President assumes full responsibility for his Frankenstein or unless Congress is willing to dispose of the thing, one of its most valuble limbs--foreign aid--may be badly mangled.
To the President must be ascribed one of two ungenerous motives. Either he is convinced the budget should be cut but is himself unwilling to take the steps, which are bound to offend someone, or he believes that it is the safest minimum expenditure for the welfare of the country, but refuses to defend it strongly in the face of public protest led by his own Secretary of the Treasury.
If he doubts the wisdom of his budget he should use the information and research resources at his disposal, far superior to those of Congress, to create something satisfactory. If he considers seventy-two billion a justifiable outlay he need not invite challengers, who will come of their own accord. He should stand by it. In either case he should eventually present a budget each item of which he can sincerely defend.
Yet the reports of both the International Development Advisory Board and the Presidential Commission of Citizens Advisors indicate that foreign aid should not be reduced. Indeed the former report emphasizes the need for more aid to under-developed countries which can be of little immediate military value. Such aid would be drastically cut if the agitation of Chambers of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers is heeded. Eisenhower's weak stand can hardly protect this item from congressmen whose mail boxes are stuffed to overflowing.
Congress is not helping matters by shirking its own responsibility. The resolution of the House cannot force the President to do what he should have done already. Although Democrats may be serving party ends by showing how the President abandoned his initial responsibility, they are hardly fulfilling their normal duty in making appropriations.
The danger is that while the budget is juggled as a hot potato, cuts will be an ill-considered result of no coherent policy. Foreign aid is likely to suffer most, as, unlike welfare legislation and veterans' benefits, no voter-interest group will rise in anger.
Congress should try to deal with the budget as it stands, and take upon itself the responsibility of making reductions in keeping with total national interest. Extension aid to allies and potential allies does not serve that interest and should not fall under the axe.
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