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The Budget Barges On

May 19, 1985

Neither the Senate nor the House has particularly distinguished itself during this year's budget-resolution debate. The Republican Senate gave President Reagan what he wanted--and it had agreed to--on one day. On subsequent days the Senate reneged and turned the package inside-out. The President embraced it anyway.

The Democratic-controlled House Budget Committee, to its credit, restored cuts in Social Security cost-of-living increases. But the committee tarnished its credibility by holding budget negotiations in secret. The House version would maintain, at less-than-current spending, a dozen domestic programs eliminated by the Senate, but goes along with the phase-out of revenue sharing. It would cut defense below the President's latest bottom line, freezing it without any adjustment for inflation.

The Administration has not won any stars in this debate, either. For months the President and the secretary of defense lamented that to cut another penny from the defense budget would seriously undermine the nation's security. Yet the President embraced subsequent reductions in defense spending, from 6% real growth to 3% real growth to zero real growth. Was the defense budget grossly inflated in the first place in the knowledge that it would be cut? One wonders.

Now it is said, with foreboding, that the budget faces a confrontation between Republicans and Democrats in a two-house conference committee. Of course it does. That is how the system was established in 1787, and that, essentially, is how it has always worked.

In fact, the budget debate is moving along just about as predicted. Each version of the budget makes substantial reductions in the deficit. Each reduces defense spending to more reasonable levels. Each requires a serious look at the value of a number of domestic spending programs. There are opposing views on Social Security, but that was expected. Regrettably, each budget avoids a tax increase, which, in combination with budget adjustments, is the best way to resolve the deficit dilemma. But at least the idea of a minimum corporate income tax has been injected into the debate.

Howard E. Shuman, a longtime student of Congress, has written that the budget is not so much a process as "a tale of conflict and struggle." Bit by bit the conflict and struggle are being resolved.

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