A wish for 1984

By , Robert C. Brown is president of Tax Foundation, Inc.

The nation has finally emerged from the most trying economic ordeal in a generation. That we survived at all is a tribute to the inherent soundness of the market economy and to the perseverance of our elected leadership - in the White House and in the Congress - who refused to surrender to the doomsayer or let the economy collapse.

Even so, as the economic barometer continues to climb, hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans wait to be included in the recovery. Some industries, mostly in the smokestack regions of the East and Midwest, will never be the same. Basic metals and automotives, for example, are still feeling their way toward what they will become for the rest of the 20th century and well into the 21st. Like a winded prizefighter, the nation leans against the ropes, willing to back into the fray, but not quite able to do so.

In one sense, it is unfortunate that the springtime of the economic recovery coincides with a round of primaries and, ultimately, a presidential election. One wonders how prepared the American people and their leaders are to cope simultaneously with the hard work of keeping the recovery percolating and with the inevitable inter- and intra-party squabbles that traditionally define an election.

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A case in point is the process that began with submission of the President's budget for fiscal year 1985 to the Congress on Feb. 1. That budget contains a historic deficit of $195 billion and a gross federal debt of $1.8 trillion.

The gaggle of candidates chasing the Democratic presidential brass ring would have to be heroic in their self-restraint not to snipe at such enormous targets as the deficit projections contained in the Reagan budget. Conversely, President Reagan would have to possess either exceptionally thick skin to refrain from leading a countercharge in defense of his and his party's record. So be it. This is an election year. We cannot expect politicians to act as if it weren't.

Perhaps what we can expect from Washington, though, is a willingness on the part of incumbents to stick to their posts while the US Congress remains in session - at least through the party conventions at midyear. This goes for both the administration and the denizens of Capitol Hill.

Reasonable men may differ over strategies, and even over priorities. But they cannot disagree on the need to continue to strengthen the recovery; they cannot disagree over the need to bring down the deficits and to begin to remove the millstone which the federal debt has placed around the necks of Americans, living and yet to be born.

My wish, then, for 1984 from the perspective of the Tax Foundation, focused as it is on the fiscal health of federal, state, and local governments, is that we look for what we can do, rather than blame each other for what has or has not been done. Let us focus on what unites us, rather than on what divides us. Let us emphasize those points on which we can agree, rather than those on which we differ. Let us seek grounds for common action, rather than excuses for partisan squabbles.

This is the year of a national election, not a cat fight. Let us conduct ourselves in such a manner that a quest for public office will be worthy of the dignity to which all candidates aspire. Let us concede that there is plenty of blame to go around then agree that there is plenty of work for all to do - and start doing it.

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