When Ronald Reagan won last November's election, euphoria swept millions of taxpayers to Cloud 9.
Reagan had promised big cuts in government spending and government induced inflation. For voters who were tired of carrying a heavy tax burden, Reagan was Moses pointing the way to the promised land.
Most Americans were aware that it is easier to agree on reduced spending than on the specifics of what should be reduced. We knew that a program one person considers a waste of tax dollars can be of utmost importance to another. We were prepared for the usual refrain, "Of course we must cut, but begin there, not here. Cut his program, not mine."
Some of us older people just shrugged and hoped for the best. We have lived through many presidential elections and recall that every candidate has promised to cut spending, yet every incumbent ended up spending more than his predecessor.
But not Reagan -- so far. On a few issues he has changed his mind after taking office, but his basic policy has remained the same: "Unless you can make a compelling case for continuing a program, cut it."
Many taxpayers find this attitude refreshing, but there is a danger in it. Budget chopping is a heavy business. Choppers may cringe when they see first blood running from programs they have cut, but they soon become injured to the gore, and to the cries of anguish from those who are bleeding. With the mounting fervor of whirling dervishes, they begin slicing off every head in sight.
One can offer many examples of what happens when budget cutting gets out of hand. Programs untainted by waste, mismanagement or graft become as likely to be axed as those that are in disrepute. Agencies created to protect the purity and efficacy of our medicines can't pay their laboratory technicians; agencies charged with keeping our food clean can't hire enough inspectors; agencies designed to protect us from unsafe automobiles, chemicals, electrical appliances and sleepware must let complaints from the public pile up, unanswered and uninvestigated.
Let me cite one example. The Consumer Product Safety Commission was created by Congress to protect the public against dangerous products, to evaluate the safety of consumer products, to develop uniform safety standards, to promote research and investigation into the causes and prevention of product-related deaths, injuries and illnesses, to persuade manufacturers to cooperate with voluntary safety programs, and when necessary, to ban hazardous products from the marketplace.
By any rational standard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has since its creation in 1972 been a useful agency. Its buget has been small but its service to all of us, rich and poor, has been significant.
But the cut decreed for the already bare-boned CPSC budget was 30 percent. It didn't get much publicity because in an era of $50 billion deficits and $10 billion errors in estimates, anything in the millions is trivial. The proposed CPSC cut is from $47 million to $33 million.
Fourteen million dollars is money, even in these inflated times. But what will this cut do to an agency that has already prevented thousands of cases of cancer among us? What will happen when CPSC is forced to fire 25 percent of its engineers and injury analysts this summer? What will happen to its lawn mower safety regulations that are supposed to go into effect this summer? Will they? Will 60,000 mower accidents be avoided as expected?
One commissioner testified on the Hill a few days ago that the cuts "seem designed more to hamper the (CPSC) ability to function than to effect real savings." Another commissioner said that is the budget cuts are made, CPSC teletypes will continue to tick our reports from hospital emergency rooms about babies killed by improperly designed equipment, or adults who have been burned, electrocuted or mangled by hazardous products. But the commission will not have enough investigators to find out what went wrong, enough engineers to test for design and manufacturing deficiencies, or enough staff to communicate warnings and findings to the public.
We're talking about 47 million dollars to protect 227 million people. That's less than 21 cents a person, for heaven's sake. Are we really so hard up that we must save 6 cents out of this kind of budget?