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Turkey, Mincemeat or Hash?

May 12, 1985

Mere hours out of surgery, Sen. Pete Wilson (D-Calif.) caught an ambulance to the Capitol and voted yes from a wheelchair on a 1986 budget bill that he later called a "terrible turkey." It was more like a mincemeat pie, most of whose philosophical and fiscal ingredients defy description.

With active support from President Reagan, who had been insisting that the nation's security requires at least 3% real growth in defense spend-ing, the Pentagon budget was cut to current levels, plus inflation. That would mean an additional $20 billion for the Pentagon.

With candor common in private conversations with bureaucrats but unheard of in public statements by a President, Reagan said after the vote that he believes in "leaving a cushion there for dealing." Bureaucrats call that padding, and the House of Representatives would do well to look closely at the mincemeat pie to see whether the Senate missed some suet.

Even with cuts, the Senate bill allows a cost-of-living increase for the Pentagon but none for the elderly on Social Security. That most conspicuous lack of spreading the burden of the budget evenly will not survive in the House.

From any point of view, the best that can be said of the Senate bill is that it would cut the projected budget deficit by $56 billion. But that still would leave a fiscal 1986 deficit of $171 billion, assuming no drastic change in economic conditions.

Reagan obviously capitulated on defense and on a number of programs that he wanted to kill al together, mass transit and Amtrak among them, to get a bill that called for no tax increases. That ought to be a short victory. One clear message that emerged from weeks of Senate labors is that the deficit cannot be properly brought under control without increasing federal revenues.

Fortunately, months of bargaining and compromise lie ahead before the budget can be completed, and the Senate has at least given the House a place to start--something to sink its teeth into.

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