Budget plan by ex-Cabinet officers: a rallying point?
Washington — In an almost unprecedented step, a bipartisan group of former Cabinet members has called for greater restraint in the US budget, warned of possible economic disaster ahead, and offered its own program to President Reagan and the Congress.
The six-man group argues that neither the President nor Congress - which have been in something like a budget stalemate for almost a year - is dealing adequately with what some call a crisis and warns that the public must face the prospect of austere belt-tightening.
The self-appointed ad hoc group consists of five former US Treasury secretaries and Peter G. Peterson, secretary of Commerce in the Nixon administration. The five secretaries and their terms of office are W. Michael Blumenthal, 1977-79 (Carter administration); William E. Simon, 1974-76 (Ford); John B. Connally, 1971-72 (Nixon); Henry H. Fowler, 1965-68 (Johnson); and C. Douglas Dillon, 1961-65 (Kennedy and Johnson).
The unanimous warning from such a blue-ribbon group with differing political views is most unusual. At a joint press conference May 24 (Mr. Simon joined the other five by telephone from London) the words were sharp.
''Congress can't overlook any longer that they are putting the budget beyond control,'' Mr. Connally said.
Mr. Dillon warned that recessions might lead to a ''depression'' like the 1930s.
In a formal joint session they said, ''The budget crisis can wait no longer. The huge budget deficits now in prospect are crippling today's economy and could lead to years of financial turbulence and industrial stagnation.''
The group wants a smaller increase in defense expenditures than Mr. Reagan. On the other side, it disagrees with a majority in both houses of Congress, which want to postpone considering a trim of social security benefits until after the fall election.
Two other developments accompany the budget fight as the House and its committees moved to take up the program passed to it last week by the Senate:
* President Reagan lobbied members of the House by telephone over the weekend in behalf of the version of the proposed 1983 budget which he favors.
* A survey of 400 economists of the National Association of Business Economists forecast slackening inflation, continued high unemployment, and a ''moderate recovery'' in the second half of 1982.
In that poll, taken by the University of Michigan's survey research center, some 63 percent of those questioned assessed current fiscal policy (debts and borrowings) as ''too easy'' but monetary policy (handling of interest rates) as ''about right.''
Confusion on the budget has rarely been deeper than it is today in Washington. Scores of rival budget proposals are being circulated. According to the six-man group of ex-Cabinet officers, the federal budget is dangerously out of control. Without swift legislative action, it will produce a succession of ever-widening deficits.
The group argues that unless checked the current year deficit of around $100 billion ''could explode into the $175-$200 billion range in fiscal year 1983'' and by fiscal year 1985 reach $250 billion.
The group apparently hopes to become a nonpartisan rallying point in a national emergency. It implies, however, that current economy efforts fall too heavily on the poor.
''The growth rate (of federal spending) has recently been cut for certain means-tested programs aimed at the poor,'' it says. It cites medicaid, food stamps, and legal assistance as areas receiving cuts.