Passing the budget: Senate, House, and now . . . ?
Sen. Lawton Chiles perhaps summed it up best when he said that last week's bipartisan Senate enactment of a budget resolution ''bodes well for the country.'' What would have boded badly would have been no decision by the Senate on the budget - what with future deficits now projected at $200 billion or more annually and threatening economic recovery. So in finally hammering out a compromise - although by the razor-thin margin of one vote (50-to-49) - the Senate has paved the way for a final budget resolution for fiscal year 1984.
Last week's action, of course, does not mean that a final budget will be easy to obtain. Obstacles are considerable. The Senate measure, and the version passed by the House, are sharply different in many respects, especially regarding tax increases. Further, President Reagan has been adamant in recent weeks in saying that he would veto any major tax increase for the upcoming fiscal year.
The need therefore, seems clear: Senate and House conferees must make every reasonable effort to craft a mutually acceptable compromise, especially regarding tax hikes and defense spending. The White House, at the same time, must avoid the temptation to work against adoption of any compromise budget at all, a course favored by some top administration officials unreconciled to revenue increases. The projected deficits are far too serious for entering the new fiscal year with no budget resolution at all. The deficit for fiscal 1983 alone is now projected at $210 billion or more, far larger than had been anticipated. By 1987 deficits could be approaching $300 billion, with borrowing by the Treasury to finance such intolerable levels crowding out private borrowing and sharply boosting interest rates to the detriment of the economy.
What kind of budget, then, should be adopted - a budget that Congress, the White house and the American people could accept? The answer would seem to be along the lines of the Senate budget - combined with the defense spending levels contained in the House package.
* Under the Senate budget, tax revenues would be increased by $8.9 billion for fiscal 1984. One possible way to raise that amount, as proposed by moderate Republicans, would be to impose a cap (of say, $500 per taxpayer) on the 10 percent tax cut scheduled to begin July 1. There would still be a tax cut, as sought by Mr. Reagan, though reduced from $30 billion to slightly over $20 billion. Also, by adopting such a compromise, Congress would not have to repeal or postpone indexation of tax rates now scheduled to begin in 1985.
* Under the House budget, defense spending would rise by about 5 percent in real terms. That is only slightly below the 6 percent increase sought by the Senate - and for that matter, not all that far from the 7 percent hike proposed in the GOP-backed budget that was defeated in the Senate. Adopting the lower House figure would in no way impair US national security. What it would do is hold down the rate of growth of defense spending.
Congress and the White House bear an enormous responsibility in working out a final budget resolution that protects the recovery - and ensures future prosperity and national growth. Political considerations should not divert the nation's highest officials from fulfilling that objective