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Congress Urged to 'Take the Medicine Now' : Democrats Rip GOP Plan for Ending Debt as Too Slow

October 20, 1985|MICHAEL WINES | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Democratic congressional leadership, still fuming over the Senate's passage of a plan to eliminate federal budget deficits by 1991, blistered the Reagan Administration on Saturday for backing what it called a politically shrewd but mindless threat to prosperity.

In the Democrats' weekly radio message, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) urged Congress to "take the medicine now" and enact immediate cuts in the $200-billion-a-year budget deficit, rather than follow the GOP proposal, which would put off reductions until after the 1986 congressional elections.

The Senate plan, dubbed the Gramm-Rudman Amendment after its Republican sponsors, Phil Gramm of Texas and Warren B. Rudman of New Hampshire, would commit Congress to slicing the annual deficit in the five years preceding 1991, when the debt would be required to reach zero. If Congress balked, the President would have authority to make reductions on his own.

Rider to Debt Ceiling

The Gramm-Rudman amendment swept through the Senate on Oct. 9 as part of a crucial bill raising the government's borrowing authority to a record $2 trillion. The House has delayed acting on the bill while Democrats draft their own deficit proposal, but if the debt ceiling is not raised by Nov. 1, the government technically will run out of money.

Obey, who heads the Joint Economic Committee, said the Gramm-Rudman measure is flawed by political and economic problems.

Politically, he said, it grants the President "probably unconstitutional" powers to make unchallenged cuts in programs and services already financed by Congress. Obey charged that those cuts would hit the helpless poor hardest of all.

"While the elderly with the tiniest incomes would lose their SSI cost-of-living increases, many megabuck military contracts would escape the budget-cutting pencil," Obey said. Meanwhile, permitted defense cuts "would clobber our military budget where it can least afford it--in readiness, in operations and maintenance and in personnel."

Senate Republicans, sensitive to the unfairness charge, said Friday that defense contracts could be cut under the amendment, but that housing contracts would not.

Critical of Delays

Obey also raked the proposal's budget-cutting schedule, saying it requires small cuts first when the economy is healthy, and delays painful cuts until later. The proposal would permit a budget deficit in fiscal 1986 that would be $20 billion greater than economists predict.

While that would allow the 22 GOP senators facing elections to avoid politically harmful cuts in popular programs, it could hurt later, when the reductions might hit an economy in recession, Obey said.

Instead of delaying unpopular budget cuts to reduce the deficit, he said, "we should simply do what is most straightforward and most effective: we should take the medicine now by cutting the deficit this year, not in the political hereafter."

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