|A few weeks ago, Congress approved
the First Joint Budget Resolution. As legislation goes, it carries no real
weight. It is not a law, it is not signed by the President, it cannot be
repealed. What it really amounts to is a set of guidelines. The Budget
Resolution only establishes an overall spending target, an agreement among
535 men and women that our final draft of the federal budget will carry
a total level of spending that does not exceed this "target" that we have
set for ourselves.
Voting for a Budget Resolution, however, did not
give us a budget. That will come later, as the House of Representatives
and the Senate begins the tedious job of appropriating money for everything
from the Central Arizona Project to national defense and deciding whether
to abolish the National Aquarium in the lobby of the Department of Commerce
Despite the fact that the Budget Resolution is
only a "rough draft," it took on major symbolic importance this year because
viewed as the first important vote on President Reagan's economic
Members of Congress had several budget choices.
But when the dust settled, anyone could see that only one of the budget
plans, that offered by Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin, provided for
a balanced federal budget in 1982.
Congress has talked for a long time about balancing
the budget, and by all measure of public opinion, Americans want a balanced
When I came to Washington as a freshman congressman
in 1961, my very first bill was one that called for a balanced federal
budget. I had no takers.
During the late 1960s, as our country became increasingly
mired in the Vietnam War, I voiced my concern about the long-term and potentially
damaging effects that financing such a conflict, without any increase in
taxes, could have on our economy. That was not a popular view.
Today, economic responsibility seems to be in
vogue, but one still may ask if Washington is really paying any attention.
I thought there was good reason to face our economic problems squarely
back in 1961 and later, during the Vietnam War. I think there is reason
now to balance the budget (our $80 billion a year interest payments on
the national debt should be compelling in itself.)
This year, Congress had a chance to bite the bullet.
It bit a marshmallow instead.
In the vote on the Budget Resolution, I supported
the plan offered by Congressman Obey. Aside from balancing the budget,
the Obey plan also offered stronger support for transportation and energy
and many other areas that I believe to be critical to our country's future.
The debate on the floor of the House was long
and spirited. All of us made our points, but the Obey resolution failed
and the resolution offered by the Administration was approved.
It is one thing to make your case, and quite another
to stand as an obstructionist. Those of us who favored a different plan
lost, but the responsible course now is for each of us to work as hard
as we can with what we have.
My differences with the President's budget remain,
however, and they boil down as much to a matter of concern about determination,
as to the absence of a balanced budget in 1982. More on that later.
Are We Really Serious?
As this newsletter is mailed, Congress faces another
piece of the President's economic program -- the Kemp-Roth tax cut plan
-- or something close to it.
Briefly, Kemp-Roth would provide a 30 per cent
tax cut for every American, at the rate of 10 per cent a year for three
In 1979, 70 per cent of the Southern Arizona households
that responded to my legislative questionnaire said they preferred a balanced
budget before a tax cut.
Responsible, politically conservative business
executives in Arizona have collared me at luncheons or have written letters
voicing outright opposition to cutting taxes now.
And prominent economists identified with both
major political parties have written lengthy and scholarly pieces for newspapers
and magazines and their message has been the same: this is not the time
for an across-the-board tax cut.
The tax-cutting game that Congress likes to play
every few years is a gimmick and one that can be cruelly misleading. The
"my tax cut is bigger than your tax cut" line does none of us much good.
It does the country no good. And it brings me right back to the same point
once more: are we really staring down economic reality when we engage in
notions that address a symptom of our ills, but do nothing to attack the
A Kemp-Roth style tax cut in our inflationary
times would be like a painkiller -- it might make us feel good for awhile,
but the pain will be back.
Does it make sense, when the public is demanding
a balanced budget, to approve a Budget Resolution that is not balanced,
and then talk about cutting taxes?
What We Must Face
I've gone on here a bit about what Congress isn't
doing. So okay, Udall, what should Congress be doing? Fair question.
I happen to have a list -- but before getting to that, let me make a couple
* First, we
need to be taking a look at the underlying rate of inflation, that part
of the inflationary spiral that has become "built-in," and find out what
we can do to break it. We need to examine our loss of competitiveness in
the global marketplace. More protectionist legislation doesn't solve anything.
We need to find imaginative ways to attack inflation psychology and to
put our national mind back on the right track.
the United States still is in desperate need of a national energy policy.
While there has been solid and reassuring progress in this country's willingness
to conserve and to reduce the consumption of petroleum, and while the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) froze the price of oil last month,
we're not yet out of our energy bind. It's true that our daily consumption
of imported oil has dropped from 8.3 million barrels to about 6 million,
but it's also true that we are still spending about $80 billion a year
for those 6 million barrels.
The OPEC price freeze will slow the rate of increase
in the price of oil, but the cartel's announced cut in production will
"sop up" the current glut of crude oil, and prices will remain high. The
exportation of American dollars is