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Getting to No You

POLITICS

By Joseph F Kahn

THE MOST OVERUSED word in Washington is "yes."

It's getting hard to remember the last morning newspaper which didn't feature a story on the interminable budget deadlock, Sadly enough, the facility of passing a reasonable spending bill seems inversely proportional to the necessity. And with the deficit soaring past $200 billion, now is a time of need.

But our Congressmen say "yes" to the tune of $900-some billion, and now we need someone to say "no." Senators should follow the lead of Edward M. Kennedy '54. They should outvote their temporarily victorious filibustering colleagues and allow a presidential line-item veto.

Calls for restraint often precipitate panic in this country--panic by special interest groups. How many times have we heard that student aid cuts would "devastate" higher education as we know it? How many times has Caspar Weinberger '38 informed Congress that one, less dime for defense will surely invite a Russian invasion? And how often do we hear that any cut in the near-bankrupt Social Security program would loss those over 60 into the streets? Every group depending on the government for its livelihood claims that any cuts in its programs would devastate everything this nation stands for obliterating valued traditions and long-held values.

But if values can only be measured by the size of the federal budget, then there is nothing left to devastate, and, except for Capitol Hill, the nation seems to realize this American have votes overwhelmingly against more taxes and in favor of well-chosen spending cuts. But, at a time of fiscal crisis and special-interest panic, Congress has simply abdicated this responsibility. By delaying, pressuring, filibustering, making deals and payoffs, our representatives have proven that attachments to their pet interests supercede national and long-term concerns. While some may argue that out of the Congressional chaos comes a budget truly representative of the whole, it is all too clear now that the lawmakers have not made the necessary sacrifices and sever will. They have an inherent ability to say no.

THE PRESIDENT, representing national rather than regional interests, can sayno, Unfortunately, the executive now has little ability to control the necessary but ever-increasing battles over funding, except by total veto, a time-consuming and useless measure that avoids the core of the problem.

The majority of the nation's governors, and municipal leaders here and all over the world, exercise the right to veto budgets line by line. But this is no available for the leader of the single largest economic entity in the world. The line-item veto has not given other leaders powers disproportionate to their position, but has contributed to maintaining sound economic principles at the state and city levels. If this country calls for a balanced budget and deficit reduction to bolster the economy and maintain should fiscal policy, the line-item veto would be the only way to enforce such a mandate.

But don't get sentimental. A final budget produced by Congress, which rightly has the responsibility for formulation money measures as the lawmakers most truly to bear all the needs of the country, does not, by extension, effectively reflect the nation. It reflects only the unprecedented political scamming over the budget. Congress would still have primary responsibility for formulation the money bills, the president would only add a less-affected dose of national and economic sanity. And of course, Congress can always reassert its will, if it can muster the two-thrids consensus.

We're not talking about a shift in the balance of power, just a streamlining of the budgetary process and the addition of national interest into the regional brouhaha. The final product will, if anything, more adequately represent the will of the people, but will in no way cancel Congress's most prized possession: ultimate control over finances.

As confidence in Congress continues to warfe with its impotence to instill financial stability, one would think that our representatives would long for a chance to step off the merry-go-round and relinquish an aspect of the budgetary process contradictory to their main mission in Washington: to bring regional interests into national legislation. As it represents the largest number of people, Congress has always had, and should continue to have the main responsibility for controversial fiscal policy. But recently we speak of a world economy. Regional and special interests are vital. But national and international considerations (more the responsibility of the president) have become major issues in the budgetary process. Congress should save themselves and allow the president the means to effectively influence finance.

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