When budget deficits loom, who you gonna call?

As Congress begins to wrestle with federal spending plans for next year, a bipartisan group of ``deficit busters'' is looking at long-term ways to bridge the budget gap. The National Economic Commission, a 14-member panel of congressmen, former government officials, and business and labor leaders, will recommend to the next president ways to pare the deficit. The commission will get its start next month and report back in March 1989.

Even Washington skeptics who don't believe Congress can break its pork barrel ways are hopeful.

``If we get some people with some budget expertise, possibly we have a chance to produce some good,'' says Larry Kudlow, a former Reagan official now at Bear Stearns & Co.

``It could turn the economy around if a new president wants to rejuvenate and solve our financial problems,'' says Clyde Prestowitz, another former administration official now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

And Rudolph Penner, formerly chief economist at the Congressional Budget Office, says that ``it could be the start of a lot of interesting proposals.''

One reason that Capitol watchers are hopeful is that the commission will be composed of six Democrats and six Republicans - only four from Congress itself. In addition, the next president can appoint two people.

The Republican side announced its slate last week: Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico; Rep. Bill Frenzel of Minnesota; Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation; Drew Lewis, former transportation secretary; Donald Rumsfeld, former defense secretary and White House chief of staff; and Caspar Weinberger, former defense secretary.

The Democrats named their six late last year: Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York; Rep. William Gray III of Pennsylvania; Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler Corporation; Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO; Felix Rohatyn, a partner with the investment banking company of Lazard Fr`eres & Co.; and Robert Strauss, former US trade representative.

Mr. Rohaytn is credited with coming up with the idea for the commission. It was then championed by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) and Senators Moynihan and Alfonse D'Amato (R). Senator Dole joined the sponsors early last year, calling the proposal the ``next step in the deficit challenge.'' He compared the National Economic Commission (NEC) to the panel formed in 1982 to suggest ways to buttress the Social Security System.

Administration officials are a little more skeptical. Says James Miller, director of the Office of Management and Budget, ``If I were the new president, I would pay attention to what the NEC says, but I can also say as one who has looked, there is no pot of gold out there.''

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