In the opinion-page article ''Against the Budget Amendment,'' Jan. 31, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D) of W. Va., calls the balanced- budget amendment a ''hoax'' and urges voters to demand straight talk from Congress before supporting the amendment. Straight talk about the federal budget is badly needed. Neither the proponents nor the opponents of the balanced-budget amendment have mentioned entitlement reform, which is required for any meaningful debate on how to balance the budget.
The trouble with entitlements is not what goes to the poor, but rather what is given to the middle class, which is not means-tested. These generous entitlements include Social Security, Medicare, federal pensions, unemployment compensation, veterans' benefits, and farm aid. We should not eliminate all entitlements, but we should return them to their original purpose, which is to help the needy. Congress and President Clinton must begin an open, honest discussion about entitlement reform now, or we will never see a balanced federal budget.
It is an unfortunate fact that the balanced-budget amendment, even if passed and ratified by the states, solves only part of our fiscal problem. Balancing the budget in the future will do nothing to reduce our unprecedented national debt, the interest on which, at the rate of close to a billion dollars a day, represents a substantial, irreducible part of the federal budget.
The federal government has no more right to operate on a continuous deficit basis than the states, or we as individuals, do. At this point, the Balanced Budget Amendment looks like our only hope to achieve some degree of fiscal stability.
Warren H. Vetter
San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
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