The budget: why not balanced?

The New York Times calls it an "election- year budget" with "something for everyone." The Boston Globe calls if "Carter's please- nobody budget." President Carter describes his 1981 budget as "prudent and responsible." The Wall Street Journal answers, "It is neither." Liberals complain that it neglects social programs. Conservatives charge that its 3.3 percent (beyond inflation) increase in military spending is not enough.

One thing everyone can agree on is that President Carter has fallen far short of his 1976 campaign pledge to balance the budget by 1981. Democratic presidential candidate Edward Kennedy contends the Carter administration "will go down in the record book" for the largest combined budget deficits "of any President in the history of America." Republican contender George Bush likewise hits the President's failure to balance the budget and terms "the combined rates of inflation and unemployment. . . the highest since the Depression" a devastating indictment" of the Carter administration.

The White House emphasizes that under its "tight" spending plans, the projected $16 billion deficit (2.6 percent of federal outlays) will be the smallest in seven years. The administration attempts to place most of the blame for the deficit on outside factors, such as the Soviet military buildup, and various domestic "uncontrollables" such as rising social security, welfare, and medicare costs. Items that the President cannot control do, in fact, comprise 75 percent of the budget.

Nevertheless, the President and Congress ought not to lose sight of the overriding need for a balanced federal budget to help bring inflation under control. If increased military spending is deemed necessary (in his State of the Union message, PResident Carter called for a more than 20 percent increase in defense spending over the next five years) then one of two things should done: either hike taxes to increase revenues to cover the military costs or reduce spending elsewhere. It is worth noting that the Carter budget's proposed increase in defense spending amounts to nearly $16 billion, almost the same size as the deficit. The dire inflationary impact of the Johnson administration's attempts in the 1960s to have both "guns and butter" without tax increases to pay for them should not be forgotten.

it seems highly unlikely that the 1981 budget is as tight or as free of waste as the Carter administration proclaims. Every effort should be made to ensure that the enlarged military expenditures are channeled to essentials and are not gobbled up by needless cost overruns and other inefficiencies the Pentagon is famous for. Certainly Congress could help trim spending by cooperating with the White House in removing many of the "pork barrel" water projects that are being sought.

With the need to curb inflation still the Number One domestic priority of the White House and the nation, it is too bad PResident Carter did not try harder to carry out his pledge, made in his 1976 debate with former President Ford: "We will have a balanced budget in fiscal 1981 if I am elected President. I keep my promises to the American people."

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