THE nation's mayors are calling on Congress to abandon the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law, complaining that it unfairly cuts urban programs first. ``We're always first in line when it comes to cuts,'' New Bedford, Mass., Mayor John Bullard said Sunday as the mayors gave initial approval to a sweeping and costly domestic agenda that seeks most of its money from a Congress that has been cutting aid to cities for a decade.
The mayors today were expected to get some indication of how Congress will view their plan from two leading Capitol Hill Democrats, who were to address the summer meeting of the US Conference of Mayors.
House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois, whose committee has jurisdiction over the tax-policy stances advocated by the mayors, was to address a morning session at which the conference was to formally open after three days of committee meetings.
After Mr. Rostenkowski's address in his hometown, Democratic Sen. Robert Kerrey (D) of Nebraska was to speak at a luncheon.
Sunday's votes by the conference's key policy committee must be ratified by the full conference of more than 200 mayors on Wednesday, but few changes are expected in a plan that blames many urban woes on federal cuts; the plan warns that urban tensions are at dangerous levels because cities are too strapped for cash to deal adequately with drugs and housing.
The centerpiece of the mayors' agenda is a handful of economic development proposals that include the demand that Congress repeal the Gramm-Rudman law.
The mayors said they were reluctant to take that stance but added they had little choice, because Congress and the Bush administration have failed to negotiate a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan. Gramm-Rudman imposes automatic cuts if the deficit eclipses certain targets.
``The mayors across this country have got to say this is a charade,'' said Mayor Lee Robinson of Macon, Ga. ``We've got to say enough is enough.''
Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, Wis., added, ``Too many of our members of Congress and the administration are seeing this as a crutch to hide some of the problems of our economy.''
Also included in the blueprint is a call for Congress to reduce the Social Security payroll taxes paid by nearly 120 million workers and lift the outside earnings cap on Social Security recipients.
The mayors' agenda, crafted at three days of committee meetings, also seeks new powers for cities to regulate and remove billboards along federal roads. But the conference committee that endorsed the package refused to adopt a measure that would have put the mayors on record against all tobacco and alcohol advertising.