Congress established the bipartisan National Economic Commission last year and gave it the modest assignment of finding ways to reduce the federal budget deficit while promoting economic growth, savings and capital formation. The commission was told to have its ideas ready for the new President next March. In Washington the other day Robert S. Strauss, the Democratic co-chairman of the 12-member commission, chose to talk publicly about where his own thoughts on deficit reduction are so far leading. His candid comments set off a political firestorm of protest and denunciation.
Yet what Strauss dared to suggest was only what economic imperatives so plainly require. As virtually everyone agrees, annual federal deficits that continue to hover around $150 billion jeopardize the nation's economic well-being. As nearly everyone knows, even though many in public life fear to say, those deficits can be reduced in only two ways. One is for Congress to boost revenues by raising taxes. The other is to trim federal expenditures--preferably by means, as the commission's mandate puts it, that would leave the burden of deficit reduction equitably distributed.
Strauss focused on this point in particular, noting that defense and entitlement programs account for an overwhelming share of the budget. Asked why he robbed banks, the late Willie Sutton said because "that's where the money is." Strauss thinks that military expenditures and entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, will have to be considered for budget cuts because "that's where the money is."