Civic Responsibility, National Debt

A surplus so small it’s a deficit

Click to see original imageAn anticipated small surplus in the fiscal 1981 federal budget appears to have melted to a prospective substantial deficit as the budget saga continues in Washington. This despite a law requiring a balanced budget effective in ’81.

Originally, last January, President Carter submitted a proposed $615.8 billion budget with a $5.8 billion deficit. But last spring Congress combined expenditure cutting with tax adjustments to produce a balanced budget that even showed a small surplus.

Many solons claimed the balancing act was artificial and government still would wind up in the red. Their warnings apparently were prophetic.

Now, reports from the Capital definitely point to a large deficit. Estimates up to $25 or $38 billion have been quoted. Contributing to the problem have been the recession, accelerated defense costs, and Congress’ defeat of Carter’s oil import fee, says news dispatches.

It was on Oct. 10, 1978 that President Carter signed Public Law 95-435 which states: “Beginning with fiscal year 1981, the total budget outlays of the Federal Government shall not exceed its receipts.”

The law certainly was due after a long string of annual deficits. But budget trends raise a question of how serious official Washington takes its own laws. We realize there are contingencies that can dictate drastic budget changes. On the other hand, have congress and the president really sliced all the fat out of the ’81 budget?

There’s talk of a tax cut on both sides of the political aisle. Over-burderened taxpayers need a break. But obviously we must get a grip on spending as a step toward a responsible reduction.

Former Federal Reserve Chief Arthur Burns warns against a hastily-conceived cut but says a well-programmed one would spur business investment and productivity without fanning inflation.

It’s time for more resolve in Washington to hold the line in spending. We believe more and more lawmakers are conceding that deficits should be reserved for emergencies such as wartime while building surpluses instead of debts in peacetime. We urge more work on the 1981 budget-cuts to offset the added contingency spending.