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Good End, Bad Means



MOST POLITICIANS ARE more or less in agreement over the gravity of the present damage and future threat posed by our burgeoning federal budget deficit. Unfortunately, a majority of Capitol Hill lawmakers refuse to bite the bullet and raise taxes while reigning in the government's massive defense appropriations. Instead, they are well on the road to taking a politically adept but cowardly exit from the crisis.

Both the House and the Senate have passed versions of the so-called Gramm-Rudman bill, which would mandate a balanced federal budget by 1991. Under the terms of both bills, if the deficit is not reduced by a set amount in each of the next several years, most federal spending--including much financial aid to college students--would be reduced by an across-the-board percentage. In addition, the President may be given broad discretionary powers in determining which programs get the axe.

A joint legislative committee is now trying to hammer out a compromise bill amid heated debate. But any version of a bill that binds lawmakers's hands as much as Gramm-Rudman is unacceptable.

The deficit must be reduced. But politicians should be open about how they intend to do it. Many say privately that they intend to raise taxes when the political climate for an increase is less forbidding. More than likely, some of these Congressmen see Gramm-Rudman as an opportunity for artificial climate control: The automatic cuts will come into play only if revenues do not increase, either through new taxes or a growing economy. Others, however, undoubtedly mean what the bill says: they want vast cuts, soon, and they could very well attempt to block any tax hikes for precisely that reason.

We oppose Gramm-Rudman and any other attempt to write the balanced budget into law, not because we disagree with the goals of such a plan, but because such bills say nothing about the method through which those goals will be achieved. Both the increased power of the President under the bill, which may include a "line-item veto" provision, and the possibility that many valuable programs will be needlessly cut, are unacceptable.

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